Save CR Heritage hosts tour of historic school buildings that could soon be changing

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - People toured some historic Cedar Rapids school buildings on Friday evening on a school bus. The group Save CR Heritage organized the event.

Coolidge Elementary on Friday, October 11, 2019 (JACKIE KENNON/KCRG).

Local historian Mark Stoffer Hunter explained the unique characteristics of the city's school buildings. Historians are talking about these buildings because there will be changes coming soon.

The Cedar Rapids School District's facilities master plan was approved in January 2018. It called for 21 elementary schools to be closed, rebuilt, or renovated.

Greg O'Connell has been the principal at Coolidge for nine years.
Five hundred students from preschool to fifth grade fill the classrooms.
But the school, which was built in 1967, has its downsides. In the library, the sinking floor causes it to be so uneven, pencils roll right off desks.

The building has the same boiler today as when it was opened.
Window air conditioning units are used to keep the kids cool. Some students are as young as three.

It’s also a challenge to make the building accessible for all.
“When you look at older buildings, one of the hardest parts is trying to figure out how to fit in some of the ADA compliance into an existing space,” said O’Connell.

The district has worked with the community to figure out what they'd like in new buildings districtwide. Security, ADA accessibility, and collaboration spaces are the top priorities.

“It just creates a hope culture,” said Cedar Rapids School District Interim Superintendent Noreen Bush. “That's definitely what we want for our kids to be filled with hope, we want our staff filled with hope, we want our community filled with hope.”

Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter also wants people to remember their past. Some buildings are more than 100 years old. “School buildings are very important for the fabric of a neighborhood,” he said.

O'Connell says he understands it's hard to see that history is torn down, but that the priority is educating the next generation.

“I'm sure that was the same discussion 40-50 years ago when they were building new buildings then is that we had to get rid of some older ones in order to get ready for the next 50 years, so that could be what we're in now, is how do we prepare out next generation of kids,” O’Connell said.

Bush said this is just the first phase of the master plan. They've built-in places in that plan to stop and get community input, to keep focused on what they want.