116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Students and staff will be moving out of Coolidge Elementary School this summer and into the newly named West Willow Elementary School.
West Willow is under construction behind Coolidge Elementary and is the first school in the Cedar Rapids Community School District's extensive 20-year facilities plan to be rebuilt. The next one to be torn down and rebuilt is Jackson Elementary School by the fall of 2022.
Last week, the school board voted to rename Coolidge to West Willow, 6225 First Ave. SW, and Jackson to Maple Grove, 1300 38th St. SW, after months of student, staff and community input.
Renaming school buildings is a districtwide effort to steer away from names that are associated with a racist history. For example, President Andrew Jackson was a slave owner, and President Calvin Coolidge oversaw the enactment of several racist policies in his tenure.
The Aug. 10 derecho in Eastern Iowa was catastrophic, said Greg O'Connell, principal of Coolidge and the future West Willow, and students mentioned 'regreening” the city and naming their new school after trees.
'It was a way of paying homage to the past and looking forward to the future and what we can do to rebuild some of that canopy we've lost,” O'Connell said.
The next step will be determining each school's new mascot and colors, which students at the future West Willow are voting on this month.
O'Connell said he has had suggestion from students including the West Willow Wildcats, West Willow Wishes, West Willow Whales and West Willow Worms.
'I have a wide variety of names,” he said with a laugh. 'The kids are going to be the ones making that mascot come alive.”
Coolidge, which was built in 1967, has had some structural problems since, such as the library floor sinking a little more each year. Before it is demolished this summer, asbestos will need to be removed.
Construction started on West Willow last year where the Coolidge playground once stood. The walls of the building are up and the roof is secure.
Kids have been 'overjoyed” watching the building go up in their backyard, but not having a playground has been a challenge, O'Connell said. They've been using one of the parking lots as a basketball court and the snow 'added some entertainment” this year.
Like new schools in the Linn-Mar and College Community districts, West Willow and Maple Grove are being built with the concept of neighborhoods in the school, which will be broken up by grade levels.
Each neighborhood at West Willow and Maple Grove will be made up of classrooms and a common area for students to gather or do group work.
This summer is going to be 'busy, very busy” at West Willow as teachers pack up classrooms and the buildings and grounds staff move boxes to the new school.
The baseball diamond and soccer fields will be seeded, a playground put in and a parking lot poured before the start of the school year this fall.
Construction on Maple Grove will begin this spring, and students and staff will move out of Jackson during the summer of 2022.
The 20-year facilities plan is expected to be paid for with funds from an existing state penny sales tax. Issuing SAVE bonds, unlike general obligation bonds, does not require a public vote.
A new Jackson is expected to cost $25.9 million and Coolidge is expected to be $25 million, board documents show.
Sticking to the facilities master plan will lower operational costs for the district and address uneven distribution of resources among the 21 elementary schools, which range from enrollments of about 220 students to almost 600.
Some students may be leaving their elementary schools, leaving friends behind, to go to West Willow or Maple Grove, O'Connell said.
The district currently is working through a boundary study to determine what students will go to which school. Once both the Jackson and Coolidge projects are complete, the district plans to close Truman Elementary by fall 2022.
Some students from Hoover Elementary may also be shifted to West Willow to help relieve some of the crowding at Hoover, O'Connell said.
'The challenge is making sure we're building a culture of kindness and being inclusive,” he said.
Nick Duffy, principal at Jackson and the future Maple Grove, said he expects the teachers at Truman and Jackson to do some professional development work together next year to start forging relationships before moving into the same building for the 2022-2023 school year.
'Every school has its own history and traditions, but it's a chance for us to dream about a new story,” Duffy said.
Before Viola Gibson Elementary was built in the early 2000s, Jackson was the second-newest building, which was built in 1970, Duffy said. The building is outdated.
It originally was built with an open concept without walls between classrooms, Duffy said. Although temporary walls have been put up, noise travels easily and the classrooms are small and lack natural light.
The new building will have large windows that overlook landscaping around the school. The woods surrounding it helped drive the design of a 'tree house feel being nestled about the trees,” Duffy said.
The new name - Maple Grove - showcases the resiliency of the community after the derecho.
'I think that was weighing on kids minds” when the school started brainstorming names in November, Duffy said.
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