Residents enter Garfield Elementary School during an open house in May 2024, before the school permanently closed. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cedar Rapids School Board ignored an offer of more than twice the sale price for Garfield Elementary, voting unanimously to sell the school building to a developer.

Amy McDonald, board president of the Linn Christian Education Association, the governing body of Isaac Newton Christian Academy, presented the board with a $375,000 cash offer for the school, at 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE, during a June 24, 2024, special board meeting.

McDonald also pointed to a new law set to go into effect in just days, which would require school property to be sold to an educational institution if it is the highest bidder.

The School Board did not address the offer directly, but voted to approve an agreement with developer Steve Emerson for $160,000, which includes more than 5 acres of land, but not an additional number of acres that the School District will retain. The 5 acres alone is assessed at $379,700. Board members Jennifer Borcherding and Kaitlin Byers were absent.

McDonald has said she was disappointed the district did not hold a formal transparent bidding process.

Read more: Christian school leaders question CR School District’s transparency

Amy McDonald hands a copy of the bid for Garfield to Cedar Rapids School Board members at the June 24 special meeting. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Two residents sent emails regarding the sale, and 10 spoke during the public hearing, with an overflow crowd spilling into another meeting room.

Several of the speakers questioned the process involved in the sale, with one asking why the board used a “cloak of secrecy,” particularly when the district will be seeking voter approval of its Physical Plant and Equipment Levy this year. The board approved setting a Sept. 10 election for the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy during the special meeting.

“The timing has the appearance of being a race against the clock,” said another speaker, Bob Mosey, who serves on the Linn Christian Education Association and lives in the Cedar Rapids School District. Mosey referenced the law set to take effect July 1 regarding sales of school property that include a building.

Emerson also addressed the board, noting that at a maximum, the school, which opened in 1915, could be converted into 20 market-rate apartments.

That number will be controlled with input from the State Historic Preservation Office, he said, as Emerson will seek to use historic tax credits to help fund the housing project.

Karla Hogan, the district’s chief financial officer, noted that the 196 students attending Isaac Newton who live in the Cedar Rapids School District represent $1.5 million annually that the school district loses in state funding.

If Isaac Newton were to double its enrollment using Garfield, that could double the financial losses, she said.

Hogan noted that Emerson will be providing two apartments in the complex for School District staff, and will be using student labor through trades programs to help convert the building into apartments, which the board lauded.

See photos of Garfield and Arthur elementary schools

A crowd filled the room for the June 24 special meeting of the Cedar Rapids School Board. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The School Board also unanimously approved an agreement to sell Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave. NE, to the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy, a private, non-profit local arts education organization, for $130,000, plus 10 years of educational programming that the academy will provide to the district for free. Arthur also opened in 1915.

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. Isaac Newton began as an elementary school, and in 2016, the high school was added.

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.

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

The Metro Economic Alliance building in Cedar Rapids, a building that the School District does not own, was upgraded using taxpayer Physical Plant and Equipment Levy funds. During its June 24 special meeting, the School Board agreed to a Sept. 10 election on extending the levy. (photo/Cindy Hadish)