School bus tour will showcase historic Cedar Rapids elementary schools scheduled for demolition

School bus tour with Mark Stoffer Hunter

Arthur Elementary School, 2630 B Ave NE, Cedar Rapids — Friday, Oct. 11 at 4 p.m.

Arthur Elementary School in Cedar Rapids is among the 13 being considered for replacement. — Lauren Shotwell/Little Village

A tour hosted by the nonprofit group Save CR Heritage will highlight the historic qualities of Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) elementary schools — 10 of which will be demolished and replaced.

Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter will be leading the tour on Friday, Oct. 11. Attendees will be transported by school bus to see schools on the closure list, as well as former school buildings that have been repurposed.

The Facilities Master Plan, approved in January 2018 by the school board, calls for changes to 21 elementary schools.

Ten will be torn down and replaced: Arthur, Cleveland, Coolidge, Erskine, Harrison, Hoover, Jackson, Johnson, Pierce and Wright. Eight will be closed: Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood Leadership Academy, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren. Three — Grant, Hiawatha and Viola Gibson — will be renovated.

The first phase of the plan includes Coolidge, Jackson and Truman. Construction on Coolidge is expected to begin in spring of 2020, followed by the rebuilding of Jackson.

Stoffer Hunter said the tour will focus more on the older schools, such as Arthur and Garfield, where it’s unclear what is going to happen. The first phase of the plan isn’t as concerning as long as Truman is closed and repurposed, not demolished, he said.

“We want to make it clear that there are some differences depending on the existing school building history and architecture,” Stoffer Hunter explained. “I think the frustration that’s happened, at least so far, is that they’re all being treated as the same plan. … There needs to be considerations of history and architecture.”

Truman Elementary, seen in 2017, will be closed as part of the first phase of the Facilities Master Plan. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The tour will begin at Arthur Elementary, a school that has served Cedar Rapids students since it opened in 1914.

Instead of being demolished and replaced, Stoffer Hunter said the existing structure should be preserved and expanded. Stoffer Hunter likened the situation to Horace Mann Elementary in Iowa City, a school close to the age of Arthur that was renovated recently.

“A discussion should happen about keeping some of the existing buildings and look at maybe expanding existing buildings,” Stoffer Hunter said.

“I think [Mann is] a really good local example of what you can do with a building that’s 100 years old — completely renovated but make it still functional. It’s architecturally sensitive to the original building.”

According to Stoffer Hunter, Wright is another school that should be renovated instead of being demolished. The school was built in 1955 and is named after Orville and Wilbur Wright, who lived in Cedar Rapids for three years when they were kids. When seen from the air, the school mimics the look for an airplane in flight.

There aren’t many buildings in Cedar Rapids that refer to the Wright brothers, Stoffer Hunter said. And he believes that if Wright is preserved, there shouldn’t be much pushback against replacing Erskin and Hoover, since the three schools are “identical-looking pieces of architecture.”

The other concern stems from what will be done with the schools that are closed down.

“I, as a historian, am absolutely adamant that with any Cedar Rapids public school building let go by the school district there should be no attempt to demolish them,” Stoffer Hunter said. “Every Cedar Rapids school building built after World War II that has been closed by the school district, none of them have ever been torn down. They’ve all been repurposed.”

Garfield Elementary School is among the eight Cedar Rapids schools that would be closed under the Facilities Master Plan. — photo by Zak Neumann

Among the schools that are being closed down is Garfield, a school built in 1914 featuring Egyptian columns at the front.

“Where else do you see Egyptian architecture in Iowa? It’s pretty amazing,” Stoffer Hunter said about the school.

Tickets for the tour are $10 and can be purchased online or in person at the Save CR Heritage pop-up shop at NewBo City Market, which runs Oct. 4-6.

The tour starts at Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave NE, and will be conducted in two shifts. The first leaves at 4:30 p.m. — people should be arrive at 4 p.m. for it — and the second leaves at 5:30 p.m.

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