School District Eyes GRC Campus As Site For New Elementary School

The Glenwood Community School District is considering construction of a replacement school for West Elementary on the campus of the Glenwood Resource Center.

Six months ago, the Glenwood Resource Center campus wasn’t on the Glenwood Community School District’s long-term facilities plan radar.

That all changed in April when the state announced it was shuttering the 146-year-old facility in 2024.

After discussions involving the State of Iowa and school district officials and further conversations at the Glenwood Board of Education’s special meeting last Monday, the GRC campus has shot to the forefront as the future home of a new elementary school as part of a proposed $50 million facilities upgrade.The new school would replace West Elmentary School.

Since Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement the residential center that cares for Iowans with intellectual and developmental disabilities was closing, the state has been in discussions with Glenwood about maintaining its presence on the hill.

The campus currently houses the district’s central office, Head Start program and its Kids Place pre-kindergarten and daycare in the same building at 103 Central. Prior to that the campus housed the Glenwood Middle School in the Meyer’s building for 18 years until the opening of the new high school in 2009.

Glenwood’s board approved a request for proposals that will now allow an architect to be hired to plot the expansive renovation project that will impact multiple buildings and change the district’s footprint.

The district’s plans to build a new West Elementary and renovate Northeast Elementary have pivoted to a likely renovation of a building on the GRC campus to replace West Elementary in addition to needed renovations at Northeast.

“We were looking at a new (building) on a new (property) at a different location we would possibly use the city to have to annex,” said Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray. “This has potentially changed that plan.”

The district is tentatively targeting the Meyers’ Building on the campus as the future West Elementary. The same building that housed the district’s middle school previously.

The state has hired HDR, Inc., an Omaha-based architectural and engineering firm, to conduct a feasibility study of the campus and work closely with district’s architects to determine the best location for West Elementary.

“We think it’s the Meyers’ Building,” Embray said. “But they may come back and say, ‘It’s not set up for that and here’s a green space on the campus and we will give you that and you can build a new building on that. But right now, that’s all kind of up in the air.”

The state has discussed the possibility of mitigation on the building so the district would be off the hook for any asbestos removal or safety updates, should they be needed.

The current proposed facilities project would likely include major renovations at Northeast and the Meyers’ building, repurposing work at the existing West Elementary and the installation of a geo-thermal heating and air conditioning system at the middle school.

The total cost of the facilities improvements is estimated at $50 million.

The district is targeting a March 2024 vote on a General Obligation Bond to pay for the project. If approved the bond would be the district’s largest to date.

Embray said the district is “intrigued” by the cost savings of potentially renovating an existing building up on the hill instead of a building a new facility – savings he estimates could be as much as $10 million. A general contractor recently did a walk-through of the building, saying it had “good bones that it could be renovated into a very innovative elementary the community would be proud of,” according to Embray.

But the superintendent sees other value in the proposal beyond the financial.

“It would help re-populate the campus by having a school presence up there,” he said. “There’s a possibility of a city park, residential neighborhoods up there, depending on what they do with the other buildings, whether they turn them into condominiums or apartments. Maybe there’s a community center up there. There’s a lot of possibilities.”

Embray estimates the district could bond for $50 million while adding less than .75 cents to the current $16.10 tax levy rate. He added, “When I got here 13 years ago it was over $18.90.”

The construction cost is calculated based on the long-range facilities plan conducted by Omaha architecture and engineering company Prochaska and Associates. Those costs estimates are based on the “20-year average” of construction costs but are subject to market factors.

“We hope it’s less than $50 million,” he said. “In these uncertain times we don’t know for sure what those costs will be.”

The proposed repurposing of the current West building would have Kids Place, the district’s pre-school program, moving into that building along with the district’s central offices, it’s alternative high school and the print, technology and food services and possibly a second regional Area Education Agency center.

What remains to be seen is how the real estate transaction between the district and state would work, according to Embray. The Iowa statehouse is currently working through legislation on the legality of gifting property but it’s his understanding the district “would have little or no cost for the building.”

“They can’t promise that, however,” he went on to say. “They need to pass some legislative action in order for that to happen.”

Having West up on the GRC campus would place it further away from Glenwood’s downtown than any district building. But Embray doesn’t see that as a drawback.

“The issue would be being able to develop residential around the new elementary,” he said. “I don’t believe it would be a negative to be that far away. I think the whole point in re-populating the campus is to make it feel like it’s part of Glenwood.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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