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Four Southeast Iowa School Buildings Closing

The field of education continues to evolve and progress, starting with classroom materials.

There was a time when students took notes with pencils and paper while a teacher stood up and wrote on a chalkboard.

Today, there are schools where kids are using laptops or iPads to search the internet while teachers use interactive smart-boards.

School districts are trying to keep up with the evolution of education by building new state-of-the-art facilities that take advantage of the latest technology and other advancements.

The result is the large, older brick buildings that stand empty until a new owner emerges or until they are torn down to try to spur the sale of an empty lot.

The Keokuk, Fort Madison, and Burlington School Districts are going this route as they prepare to close a total of four schools that were previously used to teach our future leaders.


Wells-Carey Elementary

The Keokuk School District is closing Wells-Carey Elementary after more than 85-years of use.  The school is located at the corner of 9th and Timea Streets, serving as a neighborhood school for west-central Keokuk.

Superintendent Lora Wolff says the school is being closed due to the district’s declining enrollments.  Wells-Carey is the third elementary school to shut its doors to regular classes in the last ten years.

Lincoln Elementary was purchased by Keokuk Waterworks while Torrance Elementary is being used for overflow office space and will house Keokuk’s expanded preschool next year.

Wolff says the district initially considered renovating Wells-Carey, but realized the cost would be too high due to its age and condition.

“Buildings built in 1925 were not built for today’s classrooms with technology and electricity demands,” says Wolff, adding that “it is just an old building.”

The least expensive option for the district was to add classrooms to Hawthorne Elementary, renovate George Washington Elementary and close Wells-Carey.  A majority of the Wells-Carey staff will go to either Hawthorne or George Washington.

Tracy Hartis is a 2nd Grade teacher at Wells Carey.  She says the closing is tough because the school is like a second home and her co-workers are like family.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else, which is why I have stayed (for 16 years),” says Hartis.  “We have a very tight staff, hanging out together after school.  We are very good friends (and) we all take care of each other.”

Hartis does see tremendous potential in the move for herself and her fellow second grade teacher at Wells-Carey.

“We are back and forth all day long and we share ideas all day long,” says Hartis.  “’I got this for this lesson’ and we just share back and forth.  (It) is exciting to me that we will have all the second grade teachers and we will all build on each other.”

Hartis is also excited about the new opportunities for her students through improved technology and a larger parent-teacher organization.


Fort Madison Middle School/Denmark Elementary

The Fort Madison School District decided it would address two, aging schools by building a new 4th-8th grade school on the west side of the city.

Superintendent Ken Marang says Fort Madison Middle School has served the district well for decades.  He says it started out as a high school before being transitioned to a middle school.

Marang says the building can no longer keep up with increased enrollments.

“It is difficult now with 500 kids in there,” says Marang.  “(The building has) small rooms, narrow hallways and convoluted stairways.”

The other school set to close within the Fort Madison School District is Denmark Elementary.  Marang says this building has also served the district well, but he says like the middle school, Denmark Elementary has deficiencies.

“(The school) is outdated,” says Marang.  “In a lot of ways, it is unsafe as the doors open out into the hallways.  We have some mold out there and we have some leaking there.”           

Marang says the new 4th-8th grade school will be safer and more technology-friendly.  He says the implementation of a statewide local option sales tax made it possible for the district to build the new school.


James Madison Middle School

Superintendent Jane Evans says the Burlington School District is finishing up a new school initiative that got underway years ago.

“A previous school board started the ‘Newer and Fewer” project,” says Evans.  “At one time, there were 3 middle schools in Burlington and as many as 15 elementary schools.”

The completion of Edward Stone Middle School will bring Burlington down to two middle schools and five elementary schools.

Evans says, at more than 50-years old, James Madison Middle School is no longer an ideal setting for a modern middle school.

“It has lower ceilings than the newer facilities,” says Evans, adding “it’s not air-conditioned throughout the building.  Modern buildings will have technology already built in.”



Only one of the four schools has a certain future.

The Burlington School District will use the building to house its alternative high school, its food service program, and its information technology, starting in the fall of 2012.

Burlington Superintendent Jane Evans says the district will also add a bakery so it can start baking bread for use at its schools.

The future for Fort Madison Middle School, Denmark Elementary and Wells-Carey Elementary is not so certain because no specific use has been identified at this point.

Fort Madison Superintendent Ken Marang says demolition is an option, though his preference would be for developers or organizations to step forward.

Keokuk Superintendent Lora Wolff says Wells-Carey will be maintained for the time-being, in the hope that it could reopen for overflow classrooms created by an enrollment spike.

The idea behind the new or renovated schools in southeast Iowa is to make sure students are fully prepared for what faces them after graduation.  That is why the districts are looking to the future and the next generation of buildings, instead of fighting to hold onto the past.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.