Garfield Elementary School is shown in May 2024, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before it closed its doors for the last time. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – As the Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education considers selling two of its elementary school buildings, one group questions the behind-the-scenes sale process, as it proposes a higher offer.

The School Board will consider agreements for Garfield Elementary, 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE, and Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave. NE, during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 24, 2024.

Anyone interested in speaking at the public hearing at School District headquarters, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, must sign in as a speaker at least several minutes before the meeting begins. Two lists are outside of the meeting room, which has confused past would-be participants, so anyone who would like to address the board must sign in on the correct list.

Amy McDonald, board president of the Linn Christian Education Association, the governing body of Isaac Newton Christian Academy, said the group made the School District’s sales agent aware of their interest in purchasing Garfield Elementary several months ago.

“We asked for listing information and/or access a number of times, again, through their agent,” McDonald said in an email. “We have not had access to any information about the property that isn’t publicly available other than the ability to walk through at the open house last month. We are extremely disappointed they have not been willing to hold a formal transparent bidding process.”

Garfield closed earlier this month, after the Cedar Rapids School Board voted to consolidate the school and Arthur Elementary into one larger, new school on the site of the Arthur annex. The new school, called Trailside, costs approximately $30 million; the third elementary school built to replace structurally sound buildings using taxpayer “SAVE” dollars that otherwise could have been used for maintenance of current schools.

The new Trailside Elementary is shown under construction in May 2024. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Read about the school survey taken after the defeat of the school district bond issue

Isaac Newton Christian Academy started in 1989 in the former Adams Elementary School, 1635 Linmar Dr. NE, a school building the Cedar Rapids School District sold to the Christian school after no longer being used by the district.

Leaders of Isaac Newton saw the situation with Garfield as similar, and plan to attend the June 24 public hearing to reiterate their interest in purchasing the school, allowing the Cedar Rapids School District to “maximize the resale value with a fiscally responsible competitive bid, exceeding the current significantly undervalued sale price,” its board said in a statement.

Even before school dismissed for the last time, the Cedar Rapids School District announced it planned to sell Garfield to developer Steve Emerson for $160,000. The school, which opened in 1915, sits on five acres of land near Daniels Park. The land alone is assessed at $379,700.

See photos of Garfield and Arthur elementary schools

School District representatives would not say how the district arrived at the sale price, nor why they did not consider the offer from the Isaac Newton board, but have repeatedly said they are seeking greater transparency and building trust with constituents after their $220 million bond referendum overwhelmingly failed in November.

Voters will decide in September whether or not to extend the district’s Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, some of which has been used for building demolition and to upgrade the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance building, which the school district does not own.

District leaders also have said the decision on whether or not the architecturally significant Harrison Elementary School would be demolished would come down to costs.

Harrison has been given a one-year reprieve as the School Board decides its fate.

Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter talks to tour-goers outside of Harrison Elementary School during a walking tour earlier this month. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

See photos from tours of the Harrison Elementary neighborhood

Isaac Newton began as an elementary school, and in 2016, the high school was added. The board noted as the school has grown, a number of facility expansion projects have been completed, including the expansion of the original Adams Elementary building in 2000, the addition of The Patriot Center (gymnasium) in 2015, and a significant renovation in 2017.

Emerson said the purchase of Garfield arose out of a brainstorming session with the city of Cedar Rapids, as they discussed options for vacant school buildings.

“It was a concept conversation,” he said, noting that he has converted other school district-owned buildings into housing, as he plans to do with Garfield.

The playground of Garfield Elementary is seen through a window of the school in May 2024. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

His main concern was saving the historic school building, he said, and through the use of grants and tax credits, providing needed housing at affordable rates. Current plans do not call for building additional new housing, but Emerson said he would not rule that out in the future.

Emerson also is open to partnerships with a group that could use the school’s gym or cafeteria, he said, adding that he would like to keep the playground in use for the neighborhood, if the School District allows it to remain in place.

While the school itself sits on more than five acres, the district owns an additional five acres that is not part of the agreement, he added.

Arthur Elementary opened the same year as Garfield, in 1915. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Arthur Elementary, which is more landlocked, sits on two acres of land, which is assessed at $260,800.

The School Board will consider an agreement with the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy, a private, non-profit local arts education organization, for $130,000 for Arthur, which the academy will continue using for educational purposes.

Similarly, Isaac Newton would have continued using Garfield as a school.

“We believe that continuing to use the Garfield building as an educational institution would not only maintain its legacy but also serve the best interests of the community,” McDonald said in a statement. “Preserving educational facilities should be a priority.”

Neighbors who signed a petition by Save CR Heritage to have the School Board reconsider the closure of Garfield cited numerous concerns, including families without a vehicle to transport their young children to school, and the potential for registered sex offenders to move into the neighborhood, which previously was not allowed with the presence of the school.

Read more: Residents question how decision to close Garfield was made

Some of the written survey comments from district residents are displayed at the Cedar Rapids School Board meeting in May 2024. Lack of trust was among the themes. (photo/Cindy Hadish)