By Cindy Hadish/Homegrown Iowan

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The architectural firm that directed the process for the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s $220 million bond referendum, featuring a $127 million new middle school, is one of the biggest donors to the campaign to pass the measure.

OPN Architects donated $2,500 to the “Vote Yes to Invest” group that is campaigning to pass the bond referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot, according to the Iowa Ethics Campaign Disclosure Board.

Voters in the School District will decide whether or not to raise their own property taxes by $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable valuation and again in a few years for a $225 million bond vote for “Phase II” of the plan, which would likely lead to the closure of three middle schools, starting with Harding. Wilson and Roosevelt could be closed in the second phase, according to plans developed under OPN.

Despite the school district noting that its six current middle schools are under-utilized, more than $2 million in the bond referendum would go toward purchasing land at a still undisclosed site for a new 1,200-student middle school. That potentially lucrative project would total $127 million, or more than half of the $220 million bond referendum that the “Vote Yes” group touts as needed funds for improving the district’s schools.

“Vote Yes to Invest” reported nearly $25,000 in contributions in its disclosure, from Aug. 8 through Oct. 27, 2023.

Top donor was financial services firm TrueNorth Companies of Cedar Rapids, with $5,000.

OPN, which led the district’s Facilities Master Plan committee process to determine what would be included in the bond referendum, and has received the first three contracts for the district’s new elementary schools, was second in top donor amounts, along with two other groups to promote passage of the bond issue.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC IBEW #8026, also donated $2,500, as did the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, whose leader, Doug Neumann, is married to Cedar Rapids School Board member Jen Neumann, who is running for reelection.

Though it had been proposed to be located in McKinley Middle School, the district’s new CityView High School is now housed in the Metro Economic Alliance building in downtown Cedar Rapids, with a substantial rent contract provided from the School District to the Economic Alliance.

Related: CR School District agrees to $1 million-plus contract with Metro Economic Alliance.

The New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, or NewBoCo, where School Board President David Tominsky is employed as Chief Relationship Officer, donated $250 to the Vote Yes campaign.

Tominsky is seeking re-election against challenger Stacie Johnson, Sustainability Manager at Goodwill of the Heartland.

The top individual donor to the Vote Yes campaign, with $1,500, is listed as “Laura McBride” of Marion, but the address listed is that of Lura McBride, President and CEO of Van Meter Inc., a wholesale industrial and electrical supplier.

Other major donors to the Vote Yes campaign included Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, and Garling Construction, with $2,000 each.

Iowa Public Radio uncovered a connection between a state legislator who penned a letter of support in The Gazette for the bond referendum, whose firm was paid for promoting the campaign.

Scott Drzycimski, Director of Public Affairs at ITC Midwest, who is leading the “Vote Yes” campaign, reported contributing $165.90 in in-kind donations to the campaign, as well as a $500 contribution.

Individuals in the grassroots effort to oppose the bond referendum have self-funded yard signs for their campaign. The bond referendum needs 60 percent voter approval to pass.

More: CR School District faces ethics complaint; challenges to bond and candidate petitions