116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new elementary school will be built on the annex of Arthur Elementary School, and the Arthur and Garfield Elementary School attendance areas will be combined, the Cedar Rapids school board voted Monday.
The school board approved the next steps in the facilities master plan for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, including closing Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave NE, Cedar Rapids, and Garfield Elementary, 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE, Cedar Rapids, and opening a new school in the fall of 2024.
Harrison and Madison elementary school attendance zones also will be combined by fall 2025. District officials are still considering two options for how to do this: Renovate the existing Harrison Elementary building, 1310 11th St NW, Cedar Rapids, or build on the property of Madison Elementary, 1341 Woodside Dr. NW, Cedar Rapids.
Each new elementary school will serve between 500 to 600 students. Right now, elementary schools vary in student population, serving between 200 to 500 students, creating an inequitable distribution of resources, Bush said during a facilities master plan update in February.
No buildings are to be demolished in this plan.
School board members President David Tominsky, Jennifer Neuman, Nancy Humbles and Cindy Garlock voted in favor of the plan. Dexter Merschbrock opposed the plan. Marcy Roundtree and Jennifer Borcherding were not present at the meeting Monday.
Arthur Elementary Principal Jennifer Nurre, who is on the facilities master plan committee, said the current building is not meeting the needs of the students.
Students sit in the hallway or cafeteria for collaborative and small group learning, Nurre said. “We’re scrambling to find space,” she said.
Nurre said she turns donations of clothing to the school because she doesn’t have a space to store it.
The building is inadequately heated — “we’ve had many cold days this year” — and water leaks through the ceiling in some classrooms, Nurre said.
“My experience as a classroom teacher is that teaching can be a very lonely profession,” school board member Cindy Garlock said. “You go in to your classroom, close the door and it’s you and 30 students.
“It’s so critical our teachers feel supported by their peers,” Garlock continued. “Not only are these collaborative spaces great for our kids, but they’re great for our staff.”
A request for proposal will go out this spring for the Arthur and Garfield project. The schools are two of the oldest school buildings in the district, both of which opened in 1915.
District officials hope to find someone to repurpose the buildings. School board member Jennifer Neuman voiced concerns that the district is “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to the historic schools.
“We have not done proactive engagement around this,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said. “We didn’t want to put the cart before the horse, but that would be part of this two-year process.”
Before taking a vote on the projects, Dexter Merschbrock proposed tabling the decision for the next school board meeting. The exhibit explaining the scope of the project was not shared with the public until Monday morning, he said.
There was no second for the motion.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to vote on something so impactful without letting the community see it,” Merschbrock said. “We should change moving forward, and this is an opportunity for us as a board to be more transparent.”
A 2018 facilities master plan included building 10 new elementary schools and renovating three over the next 15 to 20 years in the Cedar Rapids district. This process included the closure and repurposing of eight schools.
The district put a “pause” on the facilities master plan last year and is now revisiting its options with the help of a task force, which includes members of the community.
As a part of the 2018 facilities master plan, the Cedar Rapids district constructed and opened West Willow Elementary School this year, which replaced Coolidge Elementary School. Maple Grove Elementary School will open to replace Jackson Elementary School in the fall.
Coolidge was demolished during the summer of 2021, and Jackson will be demolished this summer.
Students at Truman Elementary School will attend either West Willow or Maple Grove beginning in the 2022-23 school year, and Truman Elementary School is being repurposed as Truman Early Childhood Center, which will offer preschool and before- and after-school care.
The elementary school work has been funded by SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Educators — an existing statewide sales tax allocated to school districts based on certified enrollment.
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