Save CR Heritage statement regarding Harrison Elementary School
Save CR Heritage sent a letter to the Cedar Rapids School Board, read by Joanie McMahon, a board member of the nonprofit, before the vote on Harrison Elementary at the April 24, 2023, meeting.
The School Board voted 6-1 to build a new school at the Harrison site, with only member Dexter Merschbrock voting against demolition. Board members Cindy Garlock, Jennifer Neumann, Nancy Humbles, Jennifer Borcherding, Marcy Roundtree and president David Tominsky voted in favor of tearing down the school, which opened in 1930.
Save Cedar Rapids Heritage urges you to follow the recommendation of the task force that spent months examining data regarding Harrison and Madison elementary schools. The 18-member group of parents, teachers, principals and other school district employees carefully considered the two options presented to them: whether Harrison should be renovated, or if Madison should be demolished in order to build a new school on its site.
Demolishing the culturally and historically important Harrison school was never considered as an option, for good reason. With its unique English Tudor and Gothic design by Cedar Rapids architect Harry Hunter, the two-story brick building is the most architecturally significant of the city’s elementary schools. The building is structurally sound, and with proper maintenance, could last for many more generations. This area of Cedar Rapids lost so much in the 2008 flood that demolishing this cultural asset would show a severe lack of consideration to its residents, as well as the city as a whole.
The task force recommendation to upgrade and expand Harrison would demonstrate the district’s commitment to sustainability, as neither school would need to be sent to the landfill, and it would help avoid significant environmentally costly emissions. With estimates for the new Trailside School totaling nearly $30 million, the cost difference between constructing a new school or upgrading the current Harrison school, and building an addition, would be negligible.
Ultimately, we believe it is in the best interest of students for Cedar Rapids to keep its neighborhood schools. Imagine if the millions of dollars diverted from SAVE funding would have been used for maintenance and improvements to our current schools, rather than demolishing local schools. Trends in education come and go. Will the district send these new buildings to the landfill each time, or be a good steward of natural resources and taxpayer money by being more adaptable and flexible? We strongly support doing what is best for our students, teachers and staff, and find it difficult to believe that removing walkable neighborhood schools is in the best interest of our students. Studies have shown that removing neighborhood schools negatively impacts students of lower socioeconomic status, particularly for families who lack reliable transportation.
Finally, while district officials asked Save CR Heritage what should be kept from Harrison to honor its history, that would be comparable to killing an elephant to display its tusks. Both are contradictory. If the district and whatever forces drive these decisions insist on a new school, we ask that Harrison be spared and the Madison site chosen for the new building. Destroying this historic asset does nothing to honor its history and only teaches our children that we live in a throwaway society.
Thank you for your consideration of our children and their future.”