What is the district asking the Board of Education to approve?
On December 11, 2023, Superintendent Dr. Jared Smith requested the WCSD Board of Education approve the engagement of architectural services from INVISION Architecture, based in Waterloo. This recommendation aims to facilitate an in-depth exploration of the district’s desire to combine East High School and West High School into one united school for the district. The board unanimously approved moving forward with the exploration.
Why is the district asking the board to approve these services?
Since 2012, when the WCSD Board of Education received a report from the High School Task Force, the district has been discussing how to best meet the needs of our high school students. Over the last 15 months, a committee made up of district leadership, building administrators, board members, and architects has held numerous meetings to discuss potential solutions necessary to provide the best opportunities for our students, staff, and the broader community.
Through these discussions, one resounding conclusion emerged—a BOLD future trajectory is essential to better serve our high school students. Our commitment to fostering a fair and academically enriching environment has led us to envision a transformative solution. We propose embracing the creation of one modern high school located adjacent to the Waterloo Career Center (WCC). We also propose that Expo Alternative Learning Center be relocated to its own space on the same campus, offering equitable access to all high school amenities for every student in the district. This visionary move is motivated by our unwavering dedication to equity and academic success for every student in Waterloo.
Key Drivers for the Exploration of One Unified High School Campus
Current Disparities and Limitations: As stewards of education, we find ourselves at a crucial juncture where the need for change meets the aspirations of academic excellence and equity. The City of Waterloo, with its three aging high school buildings, has long strived for fairness in education. However, the reality is that these structures, while holding historical significance, are limiting our ability to provide equal opportunities to all students.
Waterloo Schools believes that equity, inclusivity, and accessibility are paramount considerations in education today. In our pursuit of equity, we need to acknowledge the challenges posed by student population and staff restraints. Current district challenges can unintentionally perpetuate disparities and deny students equal access to educational resources that should be the right of every learner.
Equity: The proposed consolidation is not just a structural change but a commitment to leveling the playing field for all our students. By bringing programs under one roof, we ensure that every student has equal access to the educational opportunities that will shape their futures. In addition, modern school buildings are designed with features that cater to diverse needs, ensuring that all students, including those with disabilities, have equal access to educational opportunities.
Academic Success: We believe that it is our role as educators to create pathways to success for all of our students. The success stories emerging from our career center cannot be ignored. Imagine extending that success to all our students, not just a fortunate few. A new high school, strategically located next to the career center, will create a seamless educational journey, maximizing academic achievements and preparing our students for a competitive future.
Waterloo Career Center: Since its opening, the WCC has served as an invaluable resource for students, offering a range of benefits from early career exploration and skill development to college and career readiness. The WCC successfully connects students with their passions and opens doors to industry experts. This facilitates networking opportunities, mentorship programs, and exploration to real-world professionals, giving students insights into different career fields including local workforce needs., establishing valuable connections for future opportunities.
The stark reality is that not every student can travel to this location, hindering their ability to benefit from the higher graduation rates and post-secondary success experienced by their peers who participate in career center classes. Students today are routinely expected to miss two class periods to travel to and from the WCC from East, West, or Expo schools. This means students with full schedules or those who participate in activities like band, choir, or art are usually unable to access the career center’s offerings because they do not have time in their schedule to travel to the center.
Modern Facilities: Modernizing educational facilities is essential to meet the evolving needs of students and educators. In today’s world, teaching goes beyond traditional methods, incorporating technology, collaborative learning, and interactive approaches. A new school building is often equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that support these advancements, providing an environment where students can thrive in a dynamic and engaging manner. We believe our students deserve that.
- Technology Integration: The digital age has transformed the way education is delivered, with online resources, interactive tools, and tech-enabled teaching becoming integral. Newer buildings are designed with the necessary infrastructure to seamlessly integrate technology into the learning process, ensuring that students have access to the tools and resources essential for 21st-century education.
Flexible Learning Spaces: Traditional classrooms may not cater to the diverse teaching methods employed today. Modern facilities are designed to be flexible, allowing for adaptable spaces that support collaborative learning, group work, and interdisciplinary approaches. This flexibility enhances the overall learning experience for students and teachers.
- Community Unity and Engagement: We believe that a united high school campus will serve as a catalyst for positive change, fostering community spirit and shared responsibility. Waterloo East and West High School have long been divided, fostering inequities and leaving people with a sense of unfair treatment. Our vision goes beyond creating a mere educational institution; it aims to establish a hub for community activities, events, and partnerships.
A united high school building has the potential to be more than just a center for academic pursuits—it can be a focal point for community unity and engagement. By breaking down the physical and metaphorical barriers that separate East and West, the school can become a symbol of inclusivity and collaboration. We believe that if we can work together and form a united front, we can help strengthen the bond between the school and the community, creating a sense of shared resources and mutual support.
We believe that a united high school campus can transform the educational landscape into a dynamic and inclusive environment, where the collective well-being of the community and the success of its students are intertwined. It’s time to bridge the gap, create unity, and build a thriving community around a consolidated high school that serves as a beacon of collaboration and shared aspirations.
Safety and Security: Safety measures are paramount in creating a conducive learning environment. Newer buildings have updated safety features, emergency response plans, and secure entry points. Ensuring the safety of students and staff is a fundamental aspect of any educational institution, and a new school building can contribute significantly to this critical aspect.
- Energy Efficiency: Efficiency and sustainability are not only environmentally responsible but also economically beneficial. New school buildings often incorporate energy-efficient systems and sustainable practices, resulting in cost savings that can be redirected toward enhancing educational programs. This dual benefit aligns with the responsible stewardship of resources now and well into the future.
Now that the board has approved moving forward with exploration, what happens next? What happens if the board approves the request to move forward?
The district would take an expansive look into the viability of the project by working with architects to determine the scope of work that would need to be designed. This is where project objectives are determined, including researching and evaluating educational needs, wants and requirements. Building planning and zoning regulations and land use are also studied at this time.
This is also an important time to gather community feedback. During this exploratory process, WCSD will hold town hall meetings for citizens to attend.
Why was the Waterloo Career Center campus chosen as the location of choice?
Several locations have been explored. While we recognize that this location is not centrally located, the benefit of its proximity to the Waterloo Career Center is a significant advantage because it gives all our students access to classes and career training. This project would make Waterloo home to Iowa’s only high school with an on-campus career center. The location is also the most financially feasible and holds the potential to house a new athletics complex.
What is the projected enrollment at the new high school?
The student population would be 1,980 students. This would rank among the 10 largest high schools in the state. For comparison, using 2023-24 enrollment:
- Des Moines Lincoln: 2,362
- Southeast Polk: 2,278
- Linn-Mar: 2,273
- Des Moines East: 2,079
- Des Moines Roosevelt: 2,064
- West Des Moines Valley: 2,048
- Johnston: 1,792
- Cedar Rapids Kennedy: 1,741
- Dubuque Hempstead: 1,685
What happens to the current East High School and West High School campuses when a new high school is complete?
These facilities have educated generations of students and will continue to serve that important purpose while preserving each school’s history. East was built in 1918 and West in 1955. Since then, the district has done an excellent job of maintaining these spaces based on our facilities plan.
With this proposed plan, East and West buildings would remain in our district and house students in grades 8-9. When the buildings transition from high school facilities to grade 8-9 facilities, the student enrollment in those buildings decreases, as the schools will go from serving four grades to serving two. This allows the district flexibility within the current buildings. While this proposal is being explored, the district will work with architects to determine what upgrades might be necessary to meet the needs of grades 8-9. In addition, plans are being made to move forward with air conditioning projects in both buildings.
What will happen to the Eastside Athletic Campus Project?
Efforts to transform the East High School athletics campus are full speed ahead. The project seeks to preserve the history and culture of the Trojans while providing our youth and community with access to new and renovated baseball, softball, outdoor pickleball, basketball, tennis courts and more. The dedicated group of community members and district leaders are working together to ensure all areas of our community have equitable access to athletic fields. To learn more about this exciting project, visit EastWaterloo.com.
Will changes take place at other schools in the district?
The details of these transitions are in the early exploratory phase. Several months will be spent taking a deeper look at the future of all our buildings. A solution currently being explored transitions Bunger, Carver, and Hoover into grade 6-7 buildings. In this scenario, Central Middle School students will relocate to the appropriate 6-7 or 8-9 buildings and our elementary schools will remain the same.
What is the construction timeline for this project?
Because we are in the early phases of exploring this project, the next year would be spent working through myriad details to identify all the district’s needs. This time would also be spent developing building plans and renderings. The district hopes that construction would begin in 2025 and the doors would open to students and staff in 2028. That means today’s seventh graders would be the first senior class at the new high school.
How much is the project expected to cost?
We are still working with architects to determine our needs and potential design, so an exact cost is not yet known. We are anticipating a project of approximately $165 million.
How will the new high school be funded?
WCSD will sell bonds to finance the project. This is similar to receiving a mortgage to purchase a house. To repay the bonds, WCSD will use the funds we receive through Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE).
What are SAVE Funds?
Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE)—also known as the statewide one-cent sales tax for education—provides Iowa school districts with funds to be utilized solely for school infrastructure needs or school district property tax relief. These activities include the construction, reconstruction, repair, demolition work, purchasing, or remodeling of schoolhouses, stadiums, gymnasiums, field houses, and bus garages and the procurement of schoolhouse construction sites and making of site improvements and those activities for which revenues under Iowa Code.
SAVE has traditionally been used for infrastructure at WCSD. The district has built 11 new elementary schools with this money and completed other projects, including: transitioning Logan to George Washington Carver Academy, renovations at Hoover and Bunger Middle Schools, the Waterloo Career Center, and the Central Middle School remodel project.
Is the district required to hold a bond referendum vote?
No. A bond referendum would be needed if WCSD was asking our community to pay for this project with additional property taxes. The WCSD will use funding from SAVE, the existing one-cent statewide local option sales tax, to fund this project.
Will my taxes increase to pay for this project?
No. There will be no property taxes used to pay for this project. Funding will come from our existing SAVE funding. While other schools have asked the community to vote and approve additional funding to support a general obligation bond which is funded by a combo of either additional property taxes or income surtaxes, Waterloo Schools has elected NOT to ask the residents to take on additional tax burden and is ONLY using existing funding.
Will there be community involvement or input in the new high school’s planning process and design?
Yes. The district knows this is an important project that will affect students and families from every corner of our community. We will hold public meetings and gather feedback throughout the planning process. If the process continues to move forward, the planning team will seek community feedback throughout the project.
By transitioning to one high school, will some people lose their jobs?
Because enrollment will remain steady or potentially increase, the district does not anticipate a need for staff reductions and will continuously study this issue for the next 4-5 years. There is an expectation that natural attrition—employees who choose to retire or relocate to another district—will help alleviate the need for reductions. For context, WCSD has seen a 10% attrition rate per year since the pandemic.