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Cedar Rapids schools propose $312 million bond to fund middle, high school improvement projects
New middle school, district aquatic center among proposed projects in the plan to address secondary schools facility needs
CEDAR RAPIDS — A $312 million plan to improve Cedar Rapids secondary schools includes building a new aquatic center to replace the three pools in the district’s high schools, and a new 1,200-student middle school.
In a presentation to the school board on Monday, district officials proposed reducing the number of middle schools in the district from six to four, renovating and adding additions or new construction, and making improvements to the district’s four high schools over the next seven to 10 years.
The plan hinges on voters approving a $312 million general obligation bond in a referendum scheduled for March 7. If the bond is approved, the district’s property tax levy — which is currently zero — would increase to $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable valuation. For example, the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would see a tax increase of about $23 a month or $280 a year for 20 years, according to board documents.
“The facility master plan is not about facilities,” Superintendent Noreen Bush said. “It’s about delivering on the promise to our students, and our students deserve the very best every child gets access to in Eastern Iowa, in our entire state, and in our nation. Our kids deserve it.”
This is the first general obligation bond ask the Cedar Rapids Community School District has made in 22 years. The last ask was in 2000 for $46 million, which passed.
The average cost of a new high school in a district of similar size to Cedar Rapids is $100 million, Bush said. Under the district’s $300 million plan, middle and high school facilities would be addressed with a balance of new builds, renovation and honoring the “historic, beautiful buildings we have,” Bush said.
Surrounding Eastern Iowa school districts have made several asks from their communities in recent years. The College Community School District has passed four general obligation bonds since 2006, and Linn-Mar Community School District has passed three general obligation bonds since 2001.
Building new and renovating middle schools
The new middle school, proposed to be built on the north side of Cedar Rapids, would have capacity for 1,200 sixth to eighth grade students — an increase of the 500 to 800 students now at each middle school. Land acquisition for a new middle school is estimated to cost $2.25 million and construction of a new school is estimated to cost $88.9 million, according to board documents.
District officials propose Wilson Middle School, 2301 J St. SW, Cedar Rapids, be renovated and an addition built for capacity of up to 600 students for an estimated cost of $60.8 million.
Taft Middle School, 5200 E Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids, could be renovated with an addition added for capacity of up to 1,200 students, which is estimated to cost $16.6 million.
Renovations at Franklin Middle School, 300 20th St. NE, Cedar Rapids, is estimated to cost $30 million. Constructing or making improvements to the middle schools’ tracks is estimated to cost $4.38 million.
Under this plan, Franklin and Wilson middle schools would feed into Washington High School; Taft and Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy would feed in to Jefferson High School; and the new building on the north side would feed into Kennedy High School.
Bush said there is unbalanced enrollment at the three main high schools — with Washington High having the lowest enrollment — which will be addressed by this plan.
The plan proposes Harding Middle School, 4801 Golf St. NE, Cedar Rapids, be repurposed with community input.
McKinley STEAM Academy, 620 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids, would also be repurposed and possibly remain in the district as a future secondary magnet school, which provides students with more hands-on experiences than the traditional school model.
“McKinley is our sweetheart and has a lot of historic context as well as Grant Wood connections,” Bush said.
The list of construction projects does not include the cost of repurposing McKinley STEAM Academy in to a magnet school.
High schools to remain the same — with improvements
District officials proposed maintaining the current high school structure, which includes three high schools — Kennedy, Jefferson and Washington — and an alternative high school, Metro. Improvements could include building new turf practice fields at Kennedy, Jefferson and Washington, updating Kennedy High’s cafeteria and kitchen, and updating the gym and locker rooms at Metro High.
The pools at Kennedy, Jefferson and Washington would be closed and a new aquatic center built to serve all three high schools. This would not only create additional space in the high schools but reduce the cost of maintaining all three facilities, according to district officials. The estimated cost for a new aquatic center is $19.4 million.
“I would love for us to be the mecca of swimming in the state — the destination location,” Bush said.
Additional proposed construction projects at secondary schools include upgraded music rooms, more space in nursing and counseling offices, flexible classroom spaces and furniture, collaboration spaces for students and staff, single-occupancy restrooms, LED lighting, floor and ceiling replacements, upgraded kitchen equipment and technology upgrades.
The district is planning to present the plan to staff in September and hold in-person and virtual community open houses at various locations throughout the month. The school board will hold a work session to further discuss the plan on Oct. 24.
School board President David Tominsky said the plan is a “bold vision for Cedar Rapids.” “I think a lot of this work is overdue, and that’s why we’re seeing so much of it right now,” he said.
School board member Dexter Merschbrock, however, said he has “reservations” about the facility master plan and is “unlikely” to support putting it to a vote.
“Costs have been rising over the last year on energy, food and housing,” Merschbrock said. “These are real costs paid by the people of our community … These costs weigh heaviest on those with lower household incomes and wealth. Adding more through higher property taxes should only be done if necessary.”
The district began a facilities master plan for its elementary schools in 2018. As a part of that plan, the Cedar Rapids district constructed and opened West Willow Elementary School last year, which replaced Coolidge Elementary. Maple Grove Elementary School opens Tuesday for the first day of school, replacing Jackson Elementary.
The elementary school work has been funded by SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — an existing statewide sales tax allocated to school districts based on certified enrollment.
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