School Board to Vote on Potential Monroe Sale and Lincoln Demolition
By Meryn Fluker, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Members of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school board may take the first steps in determining the futures of two vacant facilities.
At the board’s Monday, Sept. 23 regular meeting, Superintendent Dave Benson and Executive Director of Business Services Steve Graham will recommend the sale of Monroe Elementary School to the Affordable Housing Network, Inc. and researching the demolition of Lincoln Elementary School.
While working through the search for interested buyers, the district has had to maintain both the Lincoln and Monroe facilities. Approval of the resolutions – which call for the board to hold public hearings and subsequent votes to approve the proposed actions at the Monday, Oct. 14 regular meeting – would be the first definitive moves on the properties since the district began accepting bids in late 2012.
“This particular development is a development that will bring more families to the neighborhood and potentially more students to the district, so that’s a very favorable outcome for us,” said Superintendent Benson of the potential sale of Monroe Elementary, located at 3200 Pioneer Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. The Cedar Rapids district has lost more students in the last five years than any other public school system in the state.
Affordable Housing Network, Inc. Executive Director Joe Lock signed a $250,000 purchase agreement with the district dated Aug. 26 for the Monroe site, which was appraised at $897,000. The Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit’s plan includes partnering with Hall and Hall Engineering, Novak Design Group, Olmstead Construction, OPN Architects Inc. and Skogman Homes to build 19 three and four-bedroom apartments and lofts within the school facility. They are also aiming to construct 24 single-family three- and four-bedroom homes, playgrounds, a basketball court, a community center and more on the 7.69 acre property. The development will be called Monroe Villas.
Lock said he viewed a number of potential sites since the organization began planning the construction project in early 2013.
“The one that I thought really would be the most creative use of a parcel was, believe it or not, Monroe school,” he said, noting that both of his sons attended kindergarten in the building before the school board voted to close it in 2012. “The neighborhood, with a school being shut down for not quite a year and a half, could be considered vulnerable if the right project didn’t go in there.”
Lock envisions construction beginning in fall 2014 with the units – at monthly rental rates of $625 for three-bedroom and $700 for four-bedroom apartments, lofts and homes – being ready for occupancy by late 2015 or early 2016. The spaces are planned to start at 1,200 sq. feet in area.
The entire project, the total cost of which Lock estimated at between $7.5 million and $8.5 million, hinges upon the Affordable Housing Network, Inc. receiving grant funding from the Iowa Finance Authority.
“If we don’t get a grant fund award, all of this disappears,” he said, noting that the organization will not be able to purchase the property if the grant application is denied.
The Affordable Housing Network, Inc. is planning to host an open house about the Monroe Villas project from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26 for Monroe-area residents in the school’s gym.
Lock mentioned that he also viewed the Lincoln site but it was not appropriate for the Affordable Housing Network, Inc project.
“It was so vertical,” Lock said. “There wasn’t much ground around it. It’s basically a parking lot with very little green space.”
Commercial real estate consultant Scott Olson, who is representing the school district in the sale process, has said previously that Lincoln’s multi-level structure – which does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations – has been a hurdle in selling the property.
Benson and Graham will present a proposal to explore demolishing the building, located on 1.93 acres of land at 912 18th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids, after the district couldn’t find buyers even after dropping the sale price to $295,000. The site has a $600,000 appraisal value.
“Given the age and condition of the facility, I am not surprised there is no buyer coming forward,” said the superintendent. “It would take a considerable investment to bring the facility to up-to-date standards. Not many people have those kinds of resources.”
The proposed resolution for Oct. 14 includes giving district administrators the authority to begin planning the demolition of the Lincoln building and getting bids for the work. Benson, who called recommending tearing down the building “a last resort” during a July 15 school board meeting, said the district does not have a specific timeline for that project.
“We have a responsibility not to just have vacant property in neighborhoods where the property deteriorates over time,” Benson said. “We have an obligation to the community not to let that occur. Secondly, the land has redevelopment potential should the facility be taken off of it … We simply have to wait and see who expresses interest once the land is available.”
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