Note: The Cedar Rapids School Board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 24, 2023, at the Educational Leadership & Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW. If you’d like to address the board, arrive a few minutes before the start time to sign in as a speaker. Cedar Rapids School Board members can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — After the city lost so much to the 2008 flood and 2020 derecho windstorm, the Cedar Rapids School District is pushing to destroy even more, with plans to demolish the historic Harrison Elementary School.
Beginning last November, an 18-member task force met to consider the consolidation of Madison and Harrison elementary schools, taking into account enrollment numbers, the sites of both schools and numerous other factors.
The group of parents, teachers, principals and other school district employees examined whether Harrison Elementary, 1310 11th St. NW, should be renovated, or if Madison Elementary, 1341 Woodside Drive NW, should be demolished in order to build a new school on its site as the two schools are combined.
Demolishing the culturally and historically significant Harrison school, which is structurally sound and could last for many more generations, was never considered as an option.
With its unique English Tudor and Gothic design by Cedar Rapids architect Harry Hunter, the two-story red brick building is the most architecturally significant of the city’s elementary schools, and includes an interior mural in the foyer, created by artist William Henning, a student of renowned artist Grant Wood.
Legat Architects, the firm hired to gather information on both options, said costs were similar for either project: more than $28 million for a new school at the Madison site, or more than $29 million to upgrade Harrison. Given that bids for the newest Trailside elementary came in at nearly $30 million, however, the discrepancy between the upgrades vs. new building likely would have been negligible.
After months of meeting, the task force recommended upgrading Harrison; the first time that a Cedar Rapids school would not be demolished under the district’s facilities master plan, approved by the School Board in 2018.
Already, Jackson and Coolidge elementary schools and the Arthur Elementary annex have been demolished to build larger schools, with plans to close walkable neighborhood schools, such as Garfield Elementary, 1201 Maplewood Dr. NE.
Harrison, which opened in 1930, would have been completely improved with a new roof, masonry repairs, upgraded windows and doors, and an addition built for a larger gymnasium and other spaces.
District leaders decided to overturn that recommendation, however, citing “fiscal responsibility,” even as structurally sound schools have been demolished and new schools built at the cost of nearly $30 million each, for the sake of having “something new.”
The district has ignored the environmental costs of the demolitions and the difference in longevity of the buildings, with current construction materials only designed to last 30 to 40 years, compared to centuries with old growth wood and other materials no longer used in modern construction.
District leaders have also failed to address the inequities in removing neighborhood schools, as children whose parents work have to walk even longer distances, or must be bused, and are no longer able to participate in after-school activities.
Residents have been unable to vote on the facilities master plan, as the district is using the 1 percent sales tax stream known as “SAVE” to demolish and build new schools rather than using that money to upgrade and maintain all of its schools.
Secondary school upgrades will require a bond referendum and an increase in property taxes for proposed improvements, as all of the SAVE funding is being spent on new elementary schools.
Journalist Cindy Hadish served on the Cedar Rapids School District’s Harrison/Madison Task Force.