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Volunteers rescue native prairie plants from future Cedar Falls High School site
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Volunteers rescue native prairie plants from future Cedar Falls High School site

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CEDAR FALLS — Earth movers will tear out a reconstructed prairie from the site of the planned new Cedar Falls High School when work begins next spring.

Fortunately, volunteers are preserving some of the native prairie grasses and flowers now.

On Monday, they dug up select plants from the expanse of prairie that stretches around the University of Northern Iowa’s intramural soccer fields and along an adjacent corn field. The plants were bagged and thrown into a pickup truck so they could be driven across West 27th Street and replanted on a newly tilled test plot on Tallgrass Prairie Center property.

The volunteers will be back Tuesday to finish the two-day project.

Once the new school is complete, the prairie plants will be dug up again and trucked back across the road. The school is expected to open in the fall of 2024.

“These plants are mainly going to be put in bioswales in the parking lots,” said Laura Jackson, director of the center and a UNI biology professor. The features, a type of rain garden, are designed to capture and filter pollutants in storm water before it reaches Dry Run Creek.

She noted that bioswales are designed to be dry but also to hold water when there is rain or flooding. It can be challenging to grow plants from seed or keep a young plant alive under those conditions.

“You go from drought to drowning to drought again,” said Jackson. “We thought we’d try to give the high school a head start with those bigger plant materials.”

The prairie was started in the fall of 2013, making some of the plants seven years old. The area is a small part of the more than 100 acres of prairie planted on UNI property.

Jackson said the Tallgrass Prairie Center “has worked a lot with the university on turf-to-prairie areas that are too big to mow all the time.” The organization has also consulted with Cedar Falls Community Schools on the seed mix for other prairie plantings planned on the campus.

The district purchased 50 acres from UNI for the school as well as nearly 20 additional acres from an adjacent landowner. The site is west of the UNI-Dome, which can be seen in the distance. Students will be even closer to Jackson’s center.

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“We’re excited to have the Cedar Falls High School across from us,” she said. “It will be a good opportunity to get prairie into their hands.”

The volunteer group was a mix of Americorps members from the Tallgrass Prairie Center and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education as well as UNI students and community members.

“At our peak we had 10 people, and tomorrow we might get more,” Ethan Evans, one of the organizers, said Monday afternoon. By that point, the volunteers had dug up and replanted quite a variety of species. Some of them included prairie blazing star, rigid goldenrod, mountain mint, purple prairie clover, wild indigo, rattlesnake master, pale purple coneflower, New England astor and little bluestem.

Evans said they spent time training the volunteers in the morning before digging in.

“We identified specific plants to dig up, as well as plants to avoid,” he explained. Volunteers were also shown “how much dirt to get around the roots” that would help the plants retain moisture.

Courtney Johnson, a UNI senior, was in a patch of prairie working on digging up some white wild indigo. “Its root is a lot longer” than some other species she had extracted. So, she said, it was taking more work with the shovel to get it out of the ground.

She is a member of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, an honor society for environmental science majors. “Our president worked with the Tallgrass Prairie Center this summer,” said Johnson. This fall, the group has assisted the center a lot, she said, which “got me the connection” to come and help.

Jackson admits this is a small effort, but she’s glad there is an opportunity to preserve something from the prairie.

“It feels good to rescue a few plants from over here and not let them go to waste,” she said.



Architectural drawings of the planned new Cedar Falls High School

Architectural drawings of the planned new Cedar Falls High School

This collection of conceptual drawings of the planned new Cedar Falls High School show how it might look from the exterior and inside the building. Also included in the collection is a site plan. The school, expected to open in the fall the 2024, will be located on 69.6 acres of land north of West 27th Street and west of PE Center Drive near the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. 

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An architect's drawing shows a view of the planned Cedar Falls High School with a pool addition that is currently scheduled to be built later.

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The Cedar Falls High School site plan was presented to the Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday.

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An architect's drawing showing the front of the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing showing the entryway and lobby of the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of a classroom, or "learning studio," in the new Cedar Falls High School. 

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An architect's drawing of the back exterior wall of the commons area at the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of a "co-learning studio" in the planned new Cedar Falls High School. These flexible breakout spaces will be outside of…

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A photo rendering from Invision Architecture in Waterloo shows a collaborative working space planned in the new Cedar Falls High School set to…

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An architect's drawing of the commons area at the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of the gymnasium in the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of the entryway to the "learning wing," or classroom area, of the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of the main corridor at the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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An architect's drawing of the office at the planned new Cedar Falls High School.

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This rendering from Invision Architecture shows the planned front entrance of the new Cedar Falls High School building. 

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This rendering from Invision Architecture shows the planned lunchroom, now called a commons area, in the new Cedar Falls High School. 

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Education Reporter

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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