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Lowell School not reopening next year; where students go then still being determined

Lowell School not reopening next year; where students go then still being determined

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CEDAR FALLS — Lowell Elementary School will continue holding classes in a temporary location next year as officials work to determine when — or if — damage from a roof collapse will be fixed.

The building, at 1628 Washington St. in Waterloo, was vacated in February after heavy snow caused the damage. Staff and students relocated outside of the Waterloo Community School District in an effort to quickly get back to class. The school is using Central Rivers Area Education Agency’s former conference center and special education buildings at 3706 and 3712 Cedar Heights Drive.

“Originally, we thought the repairs could be done in three to four months and then we learned that was not a feasible timeline,” said Superintendent Jane Lindaman. “We don’t know how long we’ll be out, but clearly we won’t be back by August.”

Multiple assessments of Lowell, which was built in 1931 and renovated in 2005, have been done with another one underway now. “By the time we’re done, there will be three independent assessments of the damage,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure we have the best information.”

Lindaman noted that the damage goes beyond the roof section and classrooms it was over, with structural impacts on the surrounding areas, as well. That would mean more extensive repairs and greater cost.

“Originally, we just thought that most of the damage was contained to that one area,” Lindaman explained. “When you’re trying to take an older building and bringing it up to code, the costs multiply very quickly.”

A final report from the insurance company determining the extent of damage and a financial settlement won’t be ready until somewhere between June 15 and July 1. “Clearly, the age of the building is going to have some significant impact on their decision,” said Lindaman.

“The question that we have right now is what we’re going to do with the building. It’s dependent on what the insurance company says.”

She added, “We don’t know whether we can repair it. Once we get all of the information about the condition of the building, the ability to repair or not, we would make a determination. The Board (of Education) will have to make a decision about the extent that they invest in a building almost 90 years old.”

Lindaman said district officials have already been talking to Central Rivers about continuing to lease their facilities, which are currently for sale. “We are also looking at multiple other spaces,” she said, noting the inconvenience of the school not being in the attendance area or district.

In the meantime, Principal Carrie Heinzerling said staff and students have “gotten into a groove” in the months since starting at the temporary location. Grade-level classrooms are in the AEA’s old conference center building while classes like art, music, and physical education are in the old special education building. At points there have been challenges with the buildings, but people have worked through those issues.

“It’s like starting a new school year,” she said. “I think we’ve done a nice job of figuring those things out.”

Lowell’s collapsed roof was above a second-floor fourth grade classroom and a first-floor music classroom, destroying materials in those areas. Generous donations of money and school supplies from the community have helped deal with the losses and fill in other needs of students and staff.

“With some of the donated money we were able to buy portable basketball hoops,” said Heinzerling, as well as balls and hula hoops. The gym space doesn’t have a high ceiling, so the basketball hoops are used in a parking lot that serves as a playground.

Second-grader Bridget Monroe saw at least one positive for the new playground space.

“We have a bigger outside area,” she said. However, “we had, like, a lot of playground stuff and we had an actual playground. And I just kind of miss Lowell, but I like this school.”

Third-grader La’Marieona Collins talked about her classroom, which includes two extra side rooms where the teacher lets students sit and read. Overall, though, she said the school is a little smaller than Lowell was. She is definitely glad the district found the building so students could continue attending school at the same place.

“It’s good that we’re all together and not split apart,” said Collins.

Annette Duncan, the school’s literacy coach, agreed with the girl’s point.

“I think what makes a school isn’t about brick and mortar, it’s about who is here,” she said. “This is still our school and it’s still Lowell.”

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Staff Writer

After 18-plus years reporting on local education, I’ve graduated to covering the city of Cedar Falls. Family and church commitments keep me busy outside of work along with lots of biking, rowing and skiing – pretty good for a guy with fake hips.

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