Tour highlights endangered historic schools as demolitions loom in Cedar Rapids
Oct 2019

Tour highlights endangered historic schools as demolitions loom in Cedar Rapids

Tour-goers climb the stairs at Arthur Elementary on Oct. 11, 2019, at the start of a tour of historic school buildings in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS — With demolitions of neighborhood schools looming in Cedar Rapids, participants learned what could soon be lost during a bus tour hosted by Save CR Heritage.

Arthur Elementary was constructed in a unique fortress architectural style. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter guided tour-goers on Oct. 11 through a history of school buildings in Cedar Rapids, starting with an inside tour of Arthur Elementary, built in 1914-1915.

Constructed with a unique “fortress” style architecture, the school retains many original features, including transom windows and oak woodwork.

Save CR Heritage has been raising awareness of at-risk historic properties in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Help continue this important educational and advocacy work by donating here. We can’t do it without you!

More than 60 people took the bus tour — on an actual school bus — past other historic school buildings, including Garfield Elementary School, constructed at the same time as Arthur, but in a distinctive Egyptian style, including front columns.

Garfield Elementary has an Egyptian-style architectural influence. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Already more than a century old, Stoffer Hunter noted that the buildings were constructed to last and could easily stand another 100 years.

Under the Cedar Rapids School District’s facilities master plan, however, Arthur would be demolished and replaced by a 600-student “mega-school” and Garfield would be closed, with no plans for its future use.

The closures and demolitions — decided by the School Board, rather than voters — will affect the entire city, with eight neighborhood elementary schools scheduled to close and 10 to be demolished and replaced. Three newer schools would be retained.

Harrison School, the only elementary school built by the Cedar Rapids School District between 1921 and 1949, opened in 1930 and had to be built after the old Harrison School was burned in a fire at the site of the current Flamingo Restaurant.

With its unique English Tudor design, the school also includes interior murals created by artist William Henning, a contemporary of Grant Wood. Its future is uncertain.

District officials have indicated that middle schools are the next target for the plan.

McKinley Middle School is seen from a bus window during the tour. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The bus tour included Roosevelt, McKinley and Franklin Middle Schools, all built, along with Wilson Middle School, in the “Gothic Revival” architectural style of the early 1920s, at a time when there was considerable investment of funding in the buildings.

Stoffer Hunter noted that the oldest school building still standing in Cedar Rapids is Lincoln Elementary, built in 1910, though no longer used as a school.

More: School Board votes to sell Lincoln School to local church

Other repurposed schools include the former Grant Vocational High School, built in 1914-1915, which was recently converted to residential housing, and the former Buchanan School, built in 1920-1921 and most recently used as the Ambroz Rec Center, which also will be converted to housing.

An original staircase is among features at Arthur Elementary School. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

New School Board members, to be elected Nov. 5, could change the direction of the plan if they choose to do so. Also on the Nov. 5 ballot, a Revenue Purpose Statement would allow the Cedar Rapids School District to use money from the state’s 1 percent sales tax without input from residents. The measure lists property tax relief as one of the purposes of the tax, a misleading notion, as the master plan would use all of the funds.

Already, the first two schools scheduled to be constructed are $5 million each over predicted budgets, negating the cost-savings touted by the district in its push to build new schools.

See how cost estimates have already increased by $5 million per school.

Mark Stoffer Hunter shared this photo of students at Arthur Elementary from the 1950s.

A committee, which included members with ties to the school district and construction industry, met for 18 months to ultimately agree with a hired consultant’s plan for the district. The committee had no minority representation by the end of the process.

No option for renovating existing schools was offered under the plan’s choices and despite outcry from community members leading up to the January 2018 decision, the School Board voted unanimously in favor of the plan.

Under the plan, these schools will be closed:

• Garfield, 1201 Maplewood Drive NE

• Grant Wood, 645 26th St. SE

• Kenwood Leadership Academy, 3700 E Ave. NE

• Madison, 1341 Woodside Drive NW

• Nixon, 200 Nixon Drive, Hiawatha

• Taylor, 720 Seventh Ave. SW

• Truman, 441 West Post Road. NW

• Van Buren, 2525 29th St. SW

These schools will be demolished, and replaced by 600-student “mega” schools, except for Johnson, which would have a smaller student capacity. Harrison’s unique architecture “will be taken into account,” but what that entails was unclear in the language of the resolution.

• Arthur, 2630 B Ave. NE

• Cleveland, 2200 First Ave. NW

• Coolidge, 6225 First Ave. SW

• Erskine, 600 36th St. SE

• Harrison, 1310 11th St. NW

• Hoover, 4141 Johnson Ave. NW

• Jackson, 1300 38th St. NW

• Johnson STEAM Academy, 355 18th St. SE

• Pierce, 4343 Marilyn Drive NE

• Wright, 1524 Hollywood Blvd. NE

These newer schools would be retained:

• Viola Gibson, 6101 Gibson Drive NE

• Hiawatha, 603 Emmons St., Hiawatha

• Grant, 254 Outlook Drive SW

See photos from this summer’s “Hidden Homes” walking tour and more photos from the schools tour, below:


Steve Etheredge

I wanted to do this, but glad I did not. I am concerned I just would have gotten angry, angrier, and angrier. friggin’ school districts that keep wanting bigger and bigger schools, and less and less education.

    Cindy Hadish

    We’re with you, Steve! It seems the School Board thinks new buildings will solve educational issues or other concerns. Taking away neighborhood schools will likely exacerbate those problems.

      Bryce Richmond

      You are certainly right. Gone will be the remembrances of walking together with others from your neighborhood to school.

    DAVID THOMAS Roberts David Thomas ROBERTS

    How right you are! And what embarrassing imbeciles these “school district leaders” are! I think I’ll be encouraging friends to bypass Cedar Rapids in travel, as I surely will.

Paul Cheney

I’d like to think that people in charge of schools are smart enough to retain solid historical buildings, one’s that many, many are cognitively and emotionally attached.

    Al Wells

    Paul that comment sounds like “common sense “ all the schools set for demolition can be repurposed and add to the community. Don’t give in!

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