Cedar Rapids superintendent addresses rumors about schools facility plan

Preliminary list of buildings to be closed presented to board

Superintendent Brad Buck addresses the audience during a Cedar Rapids school board meeting at the Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in northwest Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Superintendent Brad Buck addresses the audience during a Cedar Rapids school board meeting at the Educational Leadership and Support Center (ELSC) in northwest Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Superintendent Brad Buck attempted to quell rumors about developing facilities plans for the Cedar Rapids Community School District during a Monday night school board meeting.

A year into the 18-month planning process, the district’s Master Facility Planning Committee’s work has pointed toward closing eight of the district’s 21 elementary schools and rebuilding the remaining 13. Maintaining “aging buildings,” district officials have said, is more costly than building new, modern schools.

The most pervasive gossip around the facilities plan, Buck said, has been that the district intends to relocate all of its school buildings to a single site near Morgan Creek, on the far northwest side of Cedar Rapids, where the district owns multiple acres.

“I can tell you as sure as I’m sitting here, that will never happen. It doesn’t make sense that we would bus every kid in the city over to Morgan Creek,” Buck said. “I don’t know how that emerged, and I’m trying to be respectful, but I can tell you that is not going to happen.”

Some also have speculated the district wants to move all of its elementary schools to the outskirts of town, he said.

“Every one of the places that we’re talking about having a replacement school is an existing school site,” Buck said. “We’re not even in a conversation about obtaining land as a committee.”

Rather, a facilities committee presentation Monday pointed to 13 existing elementary schools that are under consideration for new buildings. Those are Cleveland, Coolidge, Hoover, Harrison and Jackson on the northwest side; Grant on the southwest side; Johnson and Erskine on the southeast side; Arthur, Wright, Pierce and Viola Gibson in northeast Cedar Rapids; and Hiawatha Elementary in Hiawatha.

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The remaining elementary schools — Truman and Madison in the northwest quadrant; Taylor and Van Buren on the southwest side; Grant Wood on the southeast side; and Garfield and Kenwood in the northeast; and Nixon in Hiawatha — are under review for closure.

Is your elementary school under review for a new building, or for closure?

“I’m just trying to be transparent with the public that this committee has thought about a lot of things: core neighborhoods, our kids, making sure they’re well-served,” Buck said.

Full implementation of the facilities plan — which is not slated to be put to a school board vote until December — is expected to take 15 to 20 years, Buck said.

Ideal capacity at one of the new elementary schools should be 600 students, with four sections of each grade, said Rob Schwarz, CEO of the educational planning firm RSP, who presented the facilities update.

“I know each time I come here I talk a lot about the elementary,” Schwarz said. “And I think it’s because the elementary is where we have a lot of the greater challenges with what we need for capacity, what the buildings’ needs are for bringing them up to certain standards.”

Buck also highlighted additional capabilities of new schools, such as secure access to gym facilities for the public.

“Instead of thinking about it as 21 existing elementaries, we’re talking about potentially 13 community hubs, or 13 community anchors,” he said.

In an interview Tuesday, district spokeswoman Akwi Nji said the larger elementary schools should maintain a class size of 21 to 25 students, and that new schools could “salvage historical components of current buildings and incorporate those features into new infrastructure.”

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“I just want to reassure the community we are listening, we are trying to tend to a number of dimensions to this. It is complex,” Buck said at Monday’s meeting. “And we need to do something.”

The district plans to host public input sessions about the facilities plan on Nov. 6, 8 and 9. Locations have yet to be determined, Nji said.

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

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