CEDAR RAPIDS — Years after developing an ambitious and controversial facilities master plan, the Cedar Rapids Community School District is nearing construction of the first school affected by the plan.
Coolidge Elementary is the most expensive elementary school in the district to maintain, a status that pushed it to the top of the priority list when the facilities plan was approved in January 2018.
Ten elementary schools in the district will be razed and rebuilt, including Coolidge. Three schools are slated to be remodeled, and the remaining eight will be closed.
The existing facility at Coolidge is more than 50 years old, and staff told The Gazette in 2018 they regularly deal with ant outbreaks, inconsistent heating and cooling, and uneven flooring.
“When I run the floor machine at night to clean the floors, you can see the unevenness of the floors just by where the water is standing,” school custodian Michael Denning said. “Especially down by the (media center). There it’s like, if I step in the wrong area, am I going to sink?”
Building a new school at 6225 First Ave. SW was expected to cost about $20 million when the Cedar Rapids School Board approved the facilities plan. Expected costs since have increased to about $25 million.
What’s happened since
The Coolidge project has been designed and is out for bid, said Roger Worm, principal architect with OPN Architects.
He designed the new school, which will be built south of the existing school. Learning will continue as usual at the existing facility until the new school is finished. The old building will be razed once students and staff relocate.
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Schools across Iowa are closed until April 30 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but Worm was optimistic it won’t delay construction.
“I have not noticed a change for bidding on time, and I don’t anticipate any impact, but it’s too early to tell,” he said. “Coronavirus will probably have some domino effects with manufacturing, manufacturing might be impacted.”
Site plans for the new Coolidge building show an L-shaped school on the southeast corner of the school’s property. Worm said the school is designed to allow for secure community use of the gym and common area after school.
“As an elementary school, there’s academic programming, athletics, fine arts, and it’s also a very strong community hub — as all elementary schools are,” he said. “So we designed this building in a way that it could provide community use and access after-hours.”
The gym, commons and cafeteria are on the east side of the building. The rest of the building is largely dedicated to classroom space, with three “fingers” branching off the school’s main wing. Two of those will house art and music rooms, special education programs and kindergarten.
The building’s main entrance will have a security vestibule, as well, and Worm said the exterior will be a blend of brick and metal paneling. The interior of the building will include multiple tactile surfaces and other three-dimensional features.
“It’s a very graphic building inside,” he said. “Kids can touch a piece of wood that has different textures on it, or different wall panels with different materials to feel — all of that sounds terrible with the coronavirus going on. But it’s a fact of little kids, they learn by seeing, hearing and touching.”
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