The Cedar Rapids School District’s oldest building is on course to become a place of worship, rather than another empty lot in the city.
During its Feb. 24 meeting, School Board members unanimously voted in favor of accepting a purchase agreement from Sanctuary Ministries of Cedar Rapids for the former Lincoln Elementary School, 912 18th Ave. SW.
According to the agreement, the non-profit will use the site for its church, an education/resource center, community gardens and youth programs.
The $105,000 offer is only about one-third of the $295,000 price tag that school district officials had placed on the building. A closing date was set for June 2.
“We’re really excited and ready to move forward,” said John Hankins, 47, pastor of The Sanctuary, a non-denominational church. “It fit right into our vision of Christian outreach and as an educational center.”
The year-old congregation is currently renting a site in southwest Cedar Rapids that holds only about 50 people. While Hankins said the group was satisfied with its current location, someone suggested a tour of Lincoln School, built in 1910, which the school district had been trying to sell for about one year.
“It’s a good, sound building,” Hankins said, citing space for youth programs in the gymnasium, using the building’s 1950s addition for the sanctuary and educational outreach in the original school. “We have zero intentions of tearing it down.”
Hankins, owner of Prism Painting in Cedar Rapids, said the school building shouldn’t need much more than paint before the church moves in. Future plans could also include a clothing and food bank, as well as community gardens on the nearly 2-acre lot.
The church is raising funds to purchase the building outright, with $14,000 raised so far.
“It’s a beautiful building,” Hankins said. “All in all, it’s in very good shape. It’s not going to go anywhere, anytime soon.”
In October, the school board unanimously approved – with Keith Westercamp abstaining – a resolution giving the school district authority to proceed with planning for the building’s demolition. Westercamp’s wife, Barbara, is on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Members of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage spoke against demolition at the public hearing in October, just before the board voted in favor of a plan to raze the school.
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of Save CR Heritage, noted that the building is the district’s oldest school still standing. The architect was Cedar Rapids’ own Charles Dieman, he said, who designed several buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Vaclav Hasek, a board member of Save CR Heritage, asked the school board to consider a creative reuse for the building, rather than razing it.
Speaking at the October meeting in the district’s new $44.5 million Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, Superintendent Dave Benson recommended demolition, saying that annual maintenance costs for the building were nearly equivalent to a teacher’s salary, “and we need all of those resources dedicated to educational needs.”
In an email today, Benson noted that “while the sale of Lincoln will save taxpayers some $29,000 annually in utilities, maintenance and insurance costs that were associated with building ownership by the school district, we are pleased that the facility will continue to serve the needs of our community.”
Kirkwood Community College had used the building after Lincoln Elementary closed in the 1970s, but moved out in the summer of 2011.
Cedar Rapids commercial real estate broker, Scott Olson, who represented the school district in marketing the building, said at least six different groups or individuals expressed solid interest in the school. The church was selected over a group that wanted to use the building for senior housing because they were able to close this summer, versus 2015, said Olson, who is also a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council.
Stoffer Hunter said he is grateful that the building will be sold, rather than demolished and noted there is a precedent in several other former Cedar Rapids schools becoming churches.
“It’s always been a landmark for that neighborhood,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty good use for it.”
Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, noted that the school district benefits from selling the building and land, and will not incur the costs of demolition.
“It’s just sound economically for taxpayers,” she said.
The Sanctuary is accepting donations for its building fund. Checks, made payable to The Sanctuary Building Fund, may be sent to: 241 18th St. NW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52405 or to Veridian Credit Union in Cedar Rapids and applied to The Sanctuary Building Fund.