Education

Cedar Rapids school board votes to build new facility for Jackson Elementary

Jackson is the second school to be affected by a facilities plan to reshape all Cedar Rapids elementaries

A split foyer, pictured Monday, creates accessibility issues at Jackson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. The school is
A split foyer, pictured Monday, creates accessibility issues at Jackson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids. The school is slated to be replaced — the second elementary to be affected under the district’s facilities master plan. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After residents urged them to do so, the Cedar Rapids school board voted Monday in favor of issuing $26 million in bonds to build a new facility at the site of Jackson Elementary School.

The elementary at 1300 38th St. NW is the second building in the district slated to be rebuilt before the old school is demolished as part of a facilities plan that intends to rebuild 10 Cedar Rapids Community School District elementary schools, remodel three and close the other eight.

All board members except Dexter Merschbrock, who campaigned against the facilities master plan in last year’s elections, voted in favor of the bond issue.

“Halting or prolonging the process at this point to go to a public vote would be a detriment to our kids, as well as the budget,” said Rachel Klosak, president of Jackson Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association, during the hearing. “We cannot divert funds from our budget, from our kids, in order to go to a vote.”

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.

While groups including Save CR Heritage and Save CR Schools are circulating a petition to force a public vote on the facilities plan, no one spoke Monday against issuing bonds for the Jackson construction.

“A lot of us are frustrated,” said Cindy Hadish, who collected petition signatures after the board meeting. “We could speak at every meeting and they still wouldn’t listen. I think it will come down to whether the community gets to vote on it. I wouldn’t say that we’re giving up, but we have to take a different tactical approach.”

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Funds for a facility at the site of Coolidge Elementary, the first school in the plan, were allocated under a previous authorization of the SAVE sales tax that did not require a public hearing before bonding against the tax revenue.

Once both the Jackson and Coolidge projects are complete, the district plans to close Truman Elementary by fall 2022.

Residents who addressed the board Monday pointed out the deficiencies of Jackson Elementary’s facility, including issues of compliance with access laws, insufficient classroom space and heating and cooling problems.

Shawna Carolan, who was on the committee that developed the facilities plan, said she thinks some of the plan’s detractors are thinking only about their own children’s experiences.

“That ‘me’ mentality is not good for our community and does not bode well for our future,” Carolan said.

Estimated costs of the facilities master plan have gone up by nearly 40 percent, to $309 million, since the board approved the plan in January 2018. During a work session ahead of Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Noreen Bush said the district does not have any plans to increase the property tax rate to pay for it.

A new Jackson building is expected to cost $25.9 million and Coolidge is expected to be $25 million, according to board documents. They initially were expected to cost $20 million each.

Sticking to the facilities master plan will lower operational costs for the district and address uneven distribution of resources among the district’s 21 elementary schools, Bush said, which range from enrollments of about 220 students to almost 600.

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The plan is also a shift away from the district’s “Band-Aid approach” to maintenance for many years, said Dave Nicholson, the district’s business services director.

Merschbrock, the lone dissenting vote, said he supports investing in facilities but “it’s unfortunate the facility plan picks winners and losers between neighborhoods.”

The board’s other six members spoke in favor of the facilities plan before voting to issue bonds against SAVE to fund Jackson’s construction.

“I believe we are doing the right thing for the students in our community. Our students deserve the very best we can give them, they are the future of our community,” board member Cindy Garlock said. “It’s important our teachers and staff have facilities that support the great work they’re doing now. I look at this as we’re creating a lot of winners in our community.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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