Education

Coronavirus hasn't held back College Community schools' construction plans

Southwest Cedar Rapids district's 10-year plan for new buildings, renovations remains on target

The front doors are now set back from the drive at Prairie Heights Elementary School, seen Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids. Impro
The front doors are now set back from the drive at Prairie Heights Elementary School, seen Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids. Improvements at the school focused on efficiency and safety, including new lighting, a secure entry vestibule and systems updated to modern fire code. Construction at Prairie Heights was funded by a 2016 bond. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Voters overwhelmingly approved a $54 million bond in the College Community School District in March, with more than 84 percent voting in favor of the measure.

Passing the bond allows the growing school district to complete its 10-year facilities plan, which outlined projects from 2013 to 2023 throughout the district’s southwest Cedar Rapids campus, where all its school buildings are clustered.

The district’s enrollment has increased by 50 to 70 students each year since 2009, to about 5,800 this year. Because of the growing property tax base, the bond’s approval will keep the property tax rate in the district steady at $16.61 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value.

College Community School District includes southern areas of Cedar Rapids, Ely, Fairfax and other rural areas.

Passing the bond allowed plans to move forward for a new fifth- and sixth-grade school at the southeast corner of the district campus. The building will be divided among eight neighborhoods, with capacity for 960 students, two gyms and art, music and media centers.

The building is on track to be completed by fall 2023, allowing for remodeling to begin that school year at Prairie Creek, the current fifth- and sixth-grade school.

Prairie Creek will then be updated for ninth-graders and the district’s alternative high school program.

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The district passed a different $49.5 million general obligation bond in 2016, which helped fund renovations of Prairie View, Prairie Heights and Prairie Crest elementaries.

What’s happened since

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, progress on the 10-year plan didn’t slow this past spring.

Superintendent Doug Wheeler said that in March, April and May, the only meetings district officials held were to discuss the pandemic and the 10-year plan’s renovation and construction projects.

“It was a hopeful piece for us,” Wheeler said. “From a timing standpoint, we could continue with design work. I think it would have been a bigger hit for us if we were in a bidding process or final stages.”

Renovations on Prairie Heights, the district’s oldest building constructed in 1954, are expected to be completed this summer.

The building is being outfitted with a more secure entrance, new technology, LED lighting, brighter hallways and classrooms, and an upgraded mechanical system.

The upgrades will make it feel “more inviting and user-friendly,” Wheeler said.

“Our goal in renovations is for students to walk into a building they feel proud of. You want a building or learning environment not to hinder your ability to deliver an effective curriculum,” he said.

The renovations at Prairie View Elementary were completed earlier this year, and the Prairie Crest Elementary project is expected to go to bid in the summer.

After creating newer, better school buildings for students, the next piece is making sure there’s enough programming for growing student enrollment.

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For example, the district added an agricultural program and National FFA Organization chapter this year.

Increasing student enrollment was a large factor in passing the bond in March. While enrollment has decreased slightly this year, down about 110 students mostly in preschool and kindergarten classes, Wheeler anticipates enrollment will recover after the pandemic.

District Chief Financial Officer Angie Morrison said the renovations and the new fifth- and sixth-grade school will be “buildings for the kids.”

“We are so grateful and fortunate to have such a supportive community,” she said. “We couldn’t be doing any of this without their faith in us and approving the bond issue.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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