CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On the same night the Cedar Rapids School Board decided it would not invest in upgrades to the historic Harrison Elementary School, the board voted to enter into a preliminary agreement that will eventually cost more than $1 million to upgrade and rent the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance building.
The preliminary documents, signed by Doug Neumann, executive director of the Metro Economic Alliance — the husband of School Board member Jennifer Neumann — and Board President David Tominsky, calls for the School District to invest $600,000 in improvements to the portion of the building being subleased for the new magnet school, City View Community High School.
Under the agreement, the School District will pay $8,333.33 per month in base rent alone — about $100,000 per year — which automatically renews annually through June 30, 2028, for the portion of the building subleased at 501 First St. SE.
Additionally, the district will pay half of the Economic Alliance’s operating expenses.
Though no dollar amount was given, those expenses include a list of 23 items, such as maintenance of plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems; painting; snow removal; maintenance supplies; carpet cleaning; janitor service; paper products; window cleaning; trash removal; utilities and heating and “unbudgeted items.”
The School District also is required to provide a district employee to staff the front desk of the Economic Alliance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, which differs from typical school hours. That person’s duties will include directing visitors to Alliance areas of the building and performing “other light administrative tasks assigned by the Alliance” not to total more than 10 percent of the employee’s time.
Also, the School District will pay for its own Internet and phone service, as well as security cameras and security locks.
Only School Board member Dexter Merschbrock voted against the project during the April 24, 2023, board meeting.
Board members Cindy Garlock, Nancy Humbles, Jennifer Borcherding, Marcy Roundtree and president Tominsky voted in favor of the plus-$1 million agreement. Jennifer Neumann abstained from voting.
That same night, the School Board overturned a task force recommendation to upgrade Harrison Elementary, 1310 11th St. NW, and instead voted to demolish the historic school in order to construct a new building on the site. Merschbrock was the only board member to vote against the demolition.
Related: School Board decision called into question
The district cited “cost savings” of approximately $1 million in tearing down the school, though the $28.9 million cost estimated for building that new school in 2024 would be less than the district’s latest elementary school under construction, with Trailside Elementary coming in so far at $31.9 million.
No rationale was given for the lower future projected costs of constructing the new school. The cost to renovate and build an addition at Harrison Elementary was estimated at $29.9 million. Architects determined the school is structurally sound and could be updated inside, with a new addition built that would provide state-of-the-art classroom space.
The option to demolish Harrison was not provided in two feedback sessions hosted by the School District, nor in a “survey” completed by about 100 people. The task force examined data for five months on two options: demolishing Madison Elementary, 1341 Woodside Dr. NW, to construct a new school on that site or upgrading and building an addition at the Harrison site as the two schools are combined.
Before her death in October, School District Superintendent Noreen Bush had said the new magnet high school would be housed in McKinley Middle School.
The $600,000 in renovations to the Metro Economic Alliance building will come from the district’s Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, or PPEL fund.
In September 2014, voters approved a 10-year extension of Cedar Rapids Community School District’s levy to support the maintenance and upkeep of the district’s 425 acres of grounds and 2.7 million-square-feet of building space.
By law, the PPEL, at a rate of $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, is in effect from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2025, to provide funding for:
Building envelope maintenance and repair, including roofing and masonry;
Campus parking lots and asphalt for playgrounds;
Preventative maintenance, with planned equipment purchases and facility repairs, according to the facilities master plan;
Projects that provide for safe and secure schools for students and staff;
Increased investment in vehicles and buses;
Improved energy conservation efforts.
The 2014 ballot measure did not include mention of buildings not owned by the School District.
See year-by-year “PPEL promises” for the Cedar Rapids School District.
Journalist Cindy Hadish served on the Harrison/Madison Task Force
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