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Gather more input on Harrison
It was a surprising decision by the Cedar Rapids School Board when it voted last month demolish Harrison Elementary School to make way for a new school on the site.
For much of the district’s facilities planning process, it seemed the historic school, which opened in 1930, would be renovated and expanded or at, the very least, saved from the wrecking ball. A volunteer focus group convened to consider the schools future voted in favor of renovation and expansion.
Then, abruptly, in the late afternoon of Friday, April 21, the district announced the board would be voting the following Monday to demolish Harrison and build a new school on the site. The board then voted 6-1 to adopt the plan.
The only explanation for the about face was the district’s contention that a survey of about 100 through a community survey preferred a new school. Another public comment session focused on just two options — renovating and expanding Harrison or building a new school at the Madison Site.
Demolishing Harrison and building new would cost $1 million less than refurbishing and expanding it, which is estimated at $29.9 million. “Historical elements” of Harrison would be incorporated into the new building. But historic preservationists are strongly opposed to demolishing the school.
We are among many in Cedar Rapids who believe the district’s explanation falls far short of clarifying the board’s sudden change. At the very least, the board and administration should provide more information to clarify what exactly changed and why the focus group’s work and recommendation was disregarded.
The Friday announcement and Monday vote gave citizens little time to react and provide input on the decision. A motion to delay the vote to allow mor input was defeated.
We think a better explanation and more time for input are imperative for the board to repair damaged trust, especially considering the district hopes to eventually seek a $312 million bond issue for high school and middle school projects.
Harrison also is home to a recreation center build and managed by the City of Cedar Rapids, which opened in 2016. The decision to demolish or keep Harrison should have been made in consultation with city leaders. Our calls for more cooperation between local government entities still is falling on deaf ears.
The school board should revisit this decision, to, at the very least, hear from more residents and make its rationale far clearer. These schools belong to the community, and a broader cross-section of resident have a right to be heard.
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