CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Touted costs-savings to replace the structurally sound and architecturally significant Harrison Elementary with a new school have already proven greatly exaggerated.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s Master Facility Plan Oversight Committee was told at its Dec. 18, 2023, meeting that the estimated cost had grown to $33.8 million, well over the $29.2 million budgeted for a new building on the site at 1310 11th St. NW.
Chris Gates, Buildings and Grounds Manager for the district, said changes to the design and some amenities, including a “learning stair” for students, would have to be removed from the plans to bring costs down.
The design changes will alter the look of the building from its original concept, he noted.
Cutbacks to the Harrison Elementary replacement school will remove features included in the original concept, at top.
According to the probable cost estimates presented at the meeting, the size of the school will also be decreased, and some expenses, including the $805,200 estimate to demolish the solid brick Harrison school will be moved to “soft costs.”
Earlier this year, School Board members quickly overturned the recommendation of a task force that spent eight months examining the choice between a new school at the Madison Elementary site or updating Harrison Elementary, as the two schools are combined.
Demolishing Harrison was never offered as an option, as the school is considered the most architecturally significant of Cedar Rapids elementary schools and was deemed structurally sound. Still, the School Board claimed it would save taxpayers money to demolish Harrison and start from scratch, at $28.9 million, approximately $1 million less than the estimate to update Harrison and build an addition.
The city will need to rezone the site for the new school to be built, Gates noted.
Harrison is considered the most architecturally significant of Cedar Rapids elementary schools and is structurally sound. Despite that, the School Board overturned a recommendation to update the school, claiming cost savings. (photo/Cindy Hadish)
A portable building also will need to be installed at the Madison site for the 2024-2025 school year, as Harrison is demolished and a new school built on its site, to accommodate both Madison and Harrison students.
The Oversight Committee recommended the School Board award the contract to the low bidder, Point Builders, for that project.
Point Builders bid $410,000 to install the portable building and $375,450 for a 15-month lease of the portable building.
The School Board also will likely approve hiring a consultant to determine why its $220 million bond referendum failed in the November election.
Voters resoundingly rejected the proposal, which included building a new middle school at an undisclosed location. The measure needed 60 percent to pass, but nearly 61 percent voted against the plan.
Previously with OPN Architects, Chad Schumacher, who was hired two months ago as the school district’s director of operations, said business owners, school staff, community members and “all of the stakeholders” will be engaged as the district decides what might be included in its next bond referendum.
First, voters will decide whether or not to extend the 10-year Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which will likely be on a September 2024 ballot.
The PPEL funds, intended for school infrastructure and other building expenses, have also been used to help fund the new elementary schools and to upgrade the privately owned Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance building, used, in part, by the new magnet school, City View Community High School.
Voters will need to approve the PPEL extension by a simple majority to pass.
The front doors of Harrison Elementary are seen at the school in Cedar Rapids. (photo/Cindy Hadish)