Community forum raises questions, concerns about the future of some Cedar Rapids schools

The facilities master planning committee said the facilities master proposal is ambitious, but it will bring schools up to speed with the current standard. Those opposing the plan said these schools are historic to the community and should be improved not removed.

On Tuesday night, concerned parents and residents weighed whether closing eight elementary schools and rebuilding 10 others with more room for students would benefit the Cedar Rapids community.

The Facilities Master Plan, which was finalized and presented to the Cedar Rapids School Board on December 11, would close Van Buren, Taylor, Garfield, Kenwood, Nixon, Grant Wood, Truman, and Madison elementary schools.

10 other school sites would be built or rebuilt to facilitate 600 students.

That plan is what brought residents and community members together inside the Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which was organized by Save CR Heritage. It comprised members of the community in a panel forum answering written and spoken audience questions.

Community members said this was another chance for residents who cannot attend school board meetings to share their concerns on this plan, which some argue could cause the loss of historical locations, create unnecessary environmental waste and displace or inconvenience students and families within their neighborhoods.

"It's about walk-ability, kids being able to walk to school, not having to go to huge mega schools and being bused, so there are a lot of different issues with the community," said Cindy Hadish, a board member for Save CR Heritage.

Despite district meetings in the past to explain the facilities master plan, residents at tonight's forum still believe the plan came together to quickly.

"If it snuck up on me. It probably snuck up on a lot of other people as well," said Mike Wyrick, a panelist, and resident at Tuesday's forum.

The facilities master planning committee said the more than $216 million dollar proposal is ambitious, but it will bring schools up to speed with current standards. They argue those eight buildings cannot accommodate the resources students need to develop for the workforce.

"How kids learned changed, the technology has changed, said Jim Craig, member of the facilities master planning committee. "Our old schools just aren't conducive to teach that way or to allow that kind of technology."

This includes not having adequate space for collaboration, according to one of the members. Members also expressed that more money would have been spent on maintaining the district's older elementary schools.

However, those opposing the plan said these schools are historic to the community and should be improved not removed.

"We are not against new buildings," said Wyrick. "On the other hand, we also know that you shouldn't throw away something that's still useful."

Save CR Heritage invited members of the school board to participate in the forum as a panelist but had declined the offer, according to Hadish. Superintendent Brad Buck of CRSD attended the forum as an audience member. Hadish said she hopes this forum will encourage all members of the board to consider the range of public opinions on this new plan before those members are expected to vote on January 22nd.

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