Tour highlights endangered historic schools as demolitions loom in Cedar Rapids
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.