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Polk Elementary School, What's Next?

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Polk Elementary School is closing, but the Cedar Rapids building will now serve a new purpose. Despite emotional pleas from parents and children, the Cedar Rapids school board voted Monday night to close Polk. But the building will not sit vacant. The district plans to house at least three programs for special needs students at Polk. They include the Alternative Education Center (AEC), the Secondary Classroom for Integrated Therapy and Education (CITE), and the Secondary Interim Placement Program (SIAP). The school district says housing those programs at Polk should save $562,014.

Only one of the seven school board members voted to keep Polk open. That board member is standing behind his vote Tuesday. Gary Anhalt says now the district, students, parents, and community as a whole have to move forward. And that means re-purposing Polk for a new group of students.

"It was a very tough decision that I thought was the one I could live with," said Cedar Rapids School Board Member At-large Gary Anhalt.

School Board member Gary Anhalt says the real issue is about declining residency in the city.

"It's Polk now and if this doesn't change, I'll think we'll be looking at continuing to close more schools possibly," said Anhalt.

But the day after that vote, Anhalt says it's time to look to the future; the dozens of special needs students who will make Polk their new school.

"We spend a lot of time explaining where our programs are," said Cedar Rapids Community School District's Special Services Executive Director Sheila Lehman.

Programs for kids with mental health conditions, behavioral problems, or discipline issues attend class in off-site locations scattered across the city like this building off Collins Road. Now, those kids will have a real school to go to.

"They don't have all the amenities you think a school would such as a gym or cafeteria," said Lehman.

Along with a more common school atmosphere, Polk would be one place for staff to service needs.

"It's the supervisors. It's the busing. It's the staffing. If one program has people out ill and the other has enough they can share teachers and para-educators," said Lehman.

Repurposing the building also has another silver lining to Anhalt.

"I want to at least keep the buildings within the district. I don't want to sell them off. There have been times and I don't want to give false hope but there would be times where we could go back and open it and at least it would still be there," said Anhalt.

The district plans to start moving furniture from the off-site locations to Polk in June and be ready to open for the start of the next school year. There's also talk the district will allow community-based programs to use the space as well.

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