About 100 turn up to hear about plan for Cedar Rapids schools

Construction would begin on 10 new elementaries in 2020

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CEDAR RAPIDS — About 100 people gathered at Jefferson High School on Monday night to learn about and respond to a facilities proposal that calls for the eventual closing of eight Cedar Rapids elementary schools and the building of 10 schools to replace existing elementaries.

The public input session, the first of three this week, came more than a year after the Cedar Rapids school district committee began a facilities planning process.

Other meetings are scheduled at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Kennedy High School and at 6 p.m. Thursday at Washington High School.

The facilities committee is to present its recommendations to the school board next month.

Under the proposal, which is not yet finalized, 10 elementary schools would be demolished and replaced with new schools on the same site — work that would be done in phases, Rob Schwarz, of the RSP Associates education consultant group, said in a presentation about the facilities committee’s work.

The first three sites for new schools would be the Arthur, Coolidge and Jackson elementaries, starting in 2020.

The second phase would build new schools on the Cleveland, Erskine, Harrison, Pierce and Wright sites, with work likely to begin around 2023.

New facilities then would be built at Hoover or Johnson, probably not until 2027, at the earliest.

The remodeling of the Viola Gibson, Hiawatha and Grant elementaries would come in the final phase.

A new school would be built every year, according to the presentation, and the new schools would be built next to existing buildings to avoid interrupting classes.

All the projects would be completed by 2033.

The proposal calls for the closing of eight elementaries — Madison, Truman, Garfield, Kenwood, Taylor, Van Buren, Grant Wood and Nixon.

A panel of district officials, RSP executives and committee members spent an hour Monday answering questions about the proposal, with concerns expressed about neighborhood impact, maintenance of magnet programs, future redrawing of elementary school boundaries and the fiscal impact.

The plan’s cost is estimated at $224 million. The work would be funded by the statewide 1 percent local-option sales tax for education, if the Legislature agrees to extend the tax past its expiration in 2029. If the sales tax continues, the work would not require bonds, which require 60 percent voter approval.

Hearing community reaction to the plan is important as the school board prepares to vote on the plan at its Jan. 22 meeting, board president John Laverty said.

Laverty said his children had seen the benefits of the updates made to Cedar Rapids’ high schools a few years ago.

“It really created a much nicer environment for the students and the staff,” Laverty said. “Some of our buildings right now are over 100 years old, some of them were built up when the baby boom was going on, and they were built very inexpensively — single-pane glass, single brick walls, flat roofs.

“We’re getting to the point now where, as a city and as a school district, we have to think of what’s best for the long run,” he said. “As a board right now, what we’re trying to do, and what I’ve tried to express to folks, is this is just long-term vision at this point. We have to have a point to start from and move forward.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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