The Ambroz Recreation Center was located in the former Buchanan School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Despite pleas from residents asking to take a more deliberate approach to a new development on the former Buchanan School/Ambroz Recreation Center site, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted unanimously to move ahead with the developer who plans to demolish the brick school.

Council members did, however, ask that residents’ concerns about the size and layout of the apartment complex that will replace the school, at 2000 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, be taken into consideration.

Steve Emerson, president of architecture and design firm Aspect Inc., who submitted the $17.5 million proposal, said he plans to meet with residents, several of whom spoke at the April 23, 2024, City Council meeting.

“This is a special site and we shouldn’t be rushing after money,” said Mark Andersland, who lives near the site in Vernon Heights, referencing a $4.5 million forgivable loan from the state for replacement housing related to Iowa’s 2020 derecho that Emerson plans to use.

Andersland asked the council to move “slowly and deliberately” in making its decision, adding that the proposed four-story, 52-unit apartment building “doesn’t seem to match the site.”

A rendering of the proposed Aspect, Inc., building shows parking at the front of the complex along Mount Vernon Road SE.

“What we do with this site will have a lasting impact for generations,” Maura Pilcher, who also lives in the Vernon Heights neighborhood, told the City Council.

A representative of the Vernon Heights Neighborhood Association, where the property is located, served on a committee that examined two proposals, but the city deemed one proposal incomplete and not financially viable.

That proposal would have saved the brick school, built in 1919-1920, and added smaller townhouses, with a total of 29 residential units.

Read about the other proposal.

Jennifer Trembath, who lives next to the proposed site of the building, asked why other residents were not contacted about the plans.

“A four-story building will not blend in,” she said, adding that the Vernon Heights representative did not speak for the neighbors she has contacted. “It will stick out.”

Jennifer Trembath addresses the City Council during the April 23, 2024, meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Trembath said she was not opposed to redeveloping the site, but asked that adequate space be provided for children to play outdoors and that concerns about parking and other issues be taken into consideration.

City Council member Ashley Vanorny thanked the residents for their involvement, noting that she had received more than 30 emails about the proposal.

One of those letters to the City Council, from Save CR Heritage, asked that the city take into consideration the environmental impact of the building demolition.

Save Cedar Rapids Heritage works to preserve our city’s historic resources through education, assistance, advocacy and action, and our volunteers draw a direct line between reusing existing buildings and sustainability, by keeping tons of demolition debris out of our landfill, preserving the energy already embodied within older buildings, and eliminating the expenditure of additional energy for new construction,” the letter stated. “Even a new ‘green’ energy-efficient building will take more than 50 years to recover the energy lost in demolishing a comparable-sized building. Older buildings provide character and a sense of place for the neighborhood that new buildings cannot replicate.”

“A plan to repurpose the existing school through historic tax credits, workforce housing and other funding may be a longer process than wiping the slate clean and building a shiny new building, but the neighborhood and the city’s own Climate Action Plan should take precedence over expedience.”

The all-volunteer nonprofit also has advocated to save Harrison Elementary School in northwest Cedar Rapids, and fought against the closure of Garfield Elementary School in northeast Cedar Rapids.

More: School district delays demolition of Harrison Elementary

Steve Emerson, center, talks to residents of Vernon Heights after the April 23, 2024, Cedar Rapids City Council meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)