The Future?

Number six in Iowa. That is the rank Cedar Falls High School received in comparison to more than 100 Iowa high schools according to US News and World Report. With such a high ranking and outstanding reputation, it seems unbelievable that students have to deal with daily problems caused by a poor facility. Some of these problems are even as basic as taking a semester final in a classroom with no air conditioning. It didn’t take long after arriving in his new role as superintendent for Mike Wells to recognize problems with the current high school building.

“First, our staff/students deserve a quality learning environment that is comfortable to learn in. For example, rooms that are 100 degrees are not a good learning environment. Second, our science/math/technology labs are inadequate for the type of creation we expect and demand from our students. We do not have enough technology in our district and are limited by our resources. We have the best educators in Iowa and perhaps in the nation; they deserve much better, and I’m committed to make sure we ask our community for such a facility. We have an opportunity to partner with higher education and to have community partnerships,” Wells said.

Wells said he feels that the most effective way to solve the current problems of the high school facility and enhance the general learning environment involves constructing a new building. “The cost of renovating the high school is $56 million dollars, which is an increase in our tax rate of $2.17. The cost of a new high school is $73 million which is an increase of $2.70,” Wells said.

He said there are some problems that a renovation cannot solve. “First, the flow of our building is poor. We will not be able to solve this issue by renovating. The high school was built in 1953 for 400 9th-12th grade students. Each time our enrollment increased, we added onto the building. As students, you know that the hallways are very crowded and getting to and from classes is a challenge,” Wells said.

CFHS principal Dr. Rich Powers also recognizes that a renovation cannot fix problems long-term and a new high school could provide much needed space and benefits. “Basically, a new building on a much larger site would provide us with the much needed space to offer a comprehensive program on one campus that we currently cannot do. It is not a five-year patch for a solution; rather it is a way to finally solve many of the problems we continue to struggle with,” Powers said.

The space in the halls is not the only problem Wells sees. After exploring average high school campus sizes from other states, he’d like to increase the space that the high school covers. “We are landlocked on 17.5 acres. It is recommended that a school our size needs a minimum of 35 acres. How can we get that much land on our current site? We would have to enact eminent domain and take houses to the east of the high school. Can you imagine taking people’s homes for expansion? It would not be fair to those homeowners.”

When the high school was built in its current location in the fifties, not nearly as many students were driving to school, but, of course, this increase has been a problem on the CFHS campus for decades since.

“We have a problem with parking. The bottom line is that we have students and staff that deserve a ‘World Class School.’ This is Cedar Falls, and our expectation for students and teachers is extremely high; we have the same expectation for our facilities. The expectation is to have the best high school in the nation, and our current facility will not allow us to do this,” Wells said.

Whether a renovation or a new school is decided on, the time to act is now. “We have had to put off this work for a number of years already. In about 2003 or 2004, a new building was considered at a cost of about $35 million. We were not able to fund that and many of the other pressing facility needs in the district at that time. That seems like a steal today as we look at nearly double of that. Interest rates may never be lower than they are today. Our students all deserve access to the best environment possible for learning and reasonable access to programs on campus. The longer we wait the greater the need becomes; the cost will continue to increase and fewer students will have access to the full range of resources,” Powers said.

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