CEDAR FALLS — An architect laid out the limitations of keeping Cedar Falls High School in the same location to the Board of Education this week.
Brad Leeper of Invision Architecture made the presentation as the firm prepares to gather more community input on the future of the school. Cedar Falls Community Schools has retained the Waterloo company to assess the building and potentially design a new school.
The district purchased a 50-acre site off West 27th Street for $1.24 million from the University of Northern Iowa in February 2017 where the building could be located. No other action has been taken by the board at this point to set the voter referendum that would be necessary to fund construction.
Leeper noted the current building, which has had 13 additions since being constructed in 1953, includes limited space for expansion and is in need of costly renovations. Already, 60 percent of student parking is off-campus in the surrounding neighborhood.
“We’re really anticipating a 30 percent enrollment growth over the next 10 years,” said Leeper. “If we do nothing, then that means class sizes get larger. We’re going to be well over 30 on those class sizes if that happens.”
Superintendent Andy Pattee said much potential for growth of the high school can be seen in a comparison of recent senior classes versus current elementary classes.
“We’ve been graduating our senior classes in about the 350 to about 370 range,” he said. “Our elementary classes are roughly about 440 to 450. I think our smallest one right now is right around 415.”
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Buying surrounding homes to expand the existing 17-acre site would be costly at an estimated $1.5 million per acre, said Leeper. There’s an expense to renovating even the existing building, though.
“If we look at the numbers holistically, 75 percent of the building is in need of major renovation,” said Leeper. “A lot of those areas are behind the wall that the public sees on a daily basis. The cost of adding on and renovating the building is about 76 percent of the cost of a new building, so it’s significant.”
Pattee noted that even if the school is renovated with limited expansion on the existing site, the district would run out of space after another 15 years.
“What’s our short list for what we do with our existing building?” asked board member Jeff Hassman, if a new school is built.
“There are parts of the building that have life left in them,” said Leeper, noting areas such as the office, the gym and other athletic facilities. “There are other parts of the building that maybe don’t and should be torn down.”
He added, “I think there’s a lot of opportunities for reuse. I don’t have specifics at this point, but I think that needs to be a broader community conversation.”
While there is interest in repurposing portions of the building, Pattee ruled out using the property for another school or new bus garage location. “But I think there are some other scalable options that would be a proper and prudent use of that,” he said.