116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
- The Cedar Rapids school board is considering a plan that would address the district's middle and high school needs.
- The plan would raise property taxes $2.70 per $100,000 of taxable valuation, or $280 per year on a house assessed at $200,000.
- A local historic preservation group is pushing back against the proposal to demolish Wilson Middle School.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Wilson Middle School, just shy of a century old, may be demolished under a proposed $312 million plan for Cedar Rapids middle and high schools.
The plan hinges on voters approving a $312 million general obligation bond in a referendum. The school board is expected to approve a timeline for the plan next month, including taking a bond referendum to district voters in September.
One of the main goals of the plan is to reduce the number of middle schools in the district to provide more equitable services to all students, director of operations Jon Galbraith said in a Cedar Rapids school board meeting Monday. This would create a feeder system from middle school to high school and it would reduce operational and maintenance costs for the district, he said.
If the bond is approved, the debt service portion of 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 per month, or $280 per year for 20 years, according to board documents.
The district has about 3,300 middle school students with the capacity for 4,200, Galbraith said. In the last six years, the district has lost about 1,400 K-12 students, he said.
Under the plan, a new middle school is proposed to be built on the north side of Cedar Rapids with capacity for 1,200 students — an increase from the 500 to 800 students now at each middle school.
The original proposal for Wilson Middle School was to renovate and build an addition for the school to have a capacity of up to 600 students, according to a school board meeting in August. Galbraith said feedback on the plan was that it’s inequitable since Washington High School — which Wilson feeds in to — is the only high school in the district that wouldn’t have a new middle school.
“It looked like we’re not providing the same opportunities to some of our lowest socioeconomic populations as we were for our highest socioeconomic populations,” Galbraith said.
In a news release Monday, Cindy Hadish on behalf of Save CR Heritage — which works to preserve historic buildings in the community — voiced opposition to the plan.
“Voting to put the demolition of Wilson on the bond referendum sends a signal that the heritage of southwest Cedar Rapids doesn’t rise to the level of the rest of the city,” Hadish wrote. “It also is at odds with the sustainable practices the Cedar Rapids school district claims to espouse to protect our environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Nothing new will recoup the amount of waste sent to the landfill.”
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said Wilson Middle School, which opened in 1925, is historically significant because of its unique architectural detail. It was built with the highest level of safety, integrity and structural strength, he said.
“The highest caliber of building construction. That went away after World War II,” Stoffer Hunter said.
Renovations are planned for other Cedar Rapids middle schools. Taft Middle School, 5200 E Ave. NW, could be renovated and an addition would add capacity for up to 1,200 students. Renovations would also be made at Franklin Middle School, 300 20th St. NE.
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.
McKinley STEAM Academy, 620 10th St. SE, would be repurposed as City View Community High School, the district’s first magnet high school to be opened by fall 2023 for hands-on learning. Magnet schools are a program in public schools that create a special area of study. It also could house the district’s alternative high school Metro, currently at 1212 Seventh St. SE.
The bond referendum does not include the cost of repurposing McKinley STEAM Academy into a magnet school, Galbraith said. The new magnet school opens this fall, though a location — which would be temporary under this plan — has not been announced.
The plan also proposes Harding Middle School, 4801 Golf St. NE, be repurposed with community input. Galbraith said the city of Cedar Rapids may have an interest in the building because its location is next to Noelridge Park.
Harding Middle School Principal Linda Reysack said the plan would provide more opportunities for sixth to eighth-graders across the district. The lack of space in some middle schools prohibits teachers and students from engaging in curriculum to its full extent. For example, one school has smaller or fewer science labs than another, Reysack said.
“At Harding, we have five lunch periods starting at 10:25 a.m. and finishes at 1:05 p.m.” because of the number of students and small cafeteria, Reysack said.
There also isn’t room for teachers and students to collaborate with each other and schools need safety upgrades, Reysack said.
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