WATERLOO — After a catastrophic collapse from the weight of winter’s snow last year, school officials are determined to preserve memories and artifacts from the historic Lowell Elementary School that was built nearly 90 years ago.
It’s a delicate task since the entire building has been deemed structurally unsafe. No one is allowed to enter the building, and the district is discouraging people from lingering anywhere near the school.
“We’re sad to lose the old Lowell. It was a really a unique building with interesting features,” said Waterloo Schools Superintendent Jane Lindaman.
Staff, parents and community members waited anxiously for nearly a year to learn whether the building would be torn down or repaired.
The district made the much-anticipated announcement it would raze and rebuild the school at its existing site at 1628 Washington St. on Tuesday evening after a parents meeting.
“No one dreamed that it would take this long,” said Tara Thomas, Waterloo Schools spokesperson. “We all felt for the families and the staff and the students.”
Part of the roof collapsed Feb. 20 on a snow day when school was not in session. Custodians were in the building, but fortunately there was no one in the room where the collapse occurred. The damage exposed the possibility of a similar failure in other parts of the building.
School officials say crews are carefully planning how and when to salvage some the building’s elements before demolition.
“If we can safely remove any of the features we will do so. If we cannot we will do something to create a tribute so we can carry those features into the new school,” Lindaman said.
Items that cannot be removed will be recorded and incorporated into the new building with high-resolution photographs.
The school board will set a date for a hearing on the project at its Monday meeting.
Lindaman anticipates demolition to be completed by May and construction to begin immediately following to allow the doors to open for the 2021-22 school year.
Despite a pending settlement with the insurance company, construction of the new school will be paid for using 1% sales tax funds and will not increase property taxes, according to Lindaman.
District officials have been working with the district’s insurance company, EMC of Des Moines, for almost a year to reach a mutually agreed upon valuation for the existing building, but remain stalemated. The district is moving ahead with plans to construct a new school despite not having reached a settlement.
“We’re still looking at exactly what it will cost to rebuild the school,” Lindaman said. Although the district is not releasing exact estimates, Lindaman said the amount is comparable to building a new school, typically in the multi-million dollar range. “We’re looking at significant dollars here.”
For example, Cedar Falls Schools spent $20.76 million on Bess Streeter Aldrich Elementary School, which opened in 2018.
Students will continue this year and the next to attend classes at the alternate location in the Central Rivers Area Education Agency’s former conference center and special education buildings at 3706 and 3712 Cedar Heights Drive in Cedar Falls.
The district considered repairing the school, but “the damage was so significant that to regain occupancy while sustaining the building would amount to a rebuild,” she said.
The school underwent renovations that began in the summer of 2004 and continued through the school year and finished in the summer of 2005. Another phase of renovations happened during the summers of 2006 and 2007.
Total construction costs came to $6.48 million, according to Courier files.
Photographer Brandon Pollock’s favorite photos of 2019
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