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Original Hiawatha school building set for demolition

KIRKLAND – It’s been a long process, but the original Hiawatha school is set for demolition next week.

The brick building, which was last used as Hiawatha Elementary School, will be razed as soon as all the necessary permits are obtained, according to Hiawatha School District 426 Superintendent Sarah Willey.

“Demolition is just the next phase in the process,” she said.

Built in 1937, the building originally housed all Hiawatha students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The high school was built in 1958 and the middle school was added in 1969.

The path to demolition of the former elementary school began during discussions in March 2009, when District 426 residents rejected two construction referendums totaling $7.4 million. The first question on the spring ballot called for $5 million for construction of a new elementary wing; the second asked for $2.4 million for construction of a new gymnasium on the site of the old school.

In August 2009, school board members approved the sale of $4 million in bonds to be repaid over 20 years for the construction of a new elementary wing. Ground was broken in March 2010 and elementary school students began using it at the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Henry Burgweger, vice president of the Hiawatha Board of Education, said numerous public meetings were conducted to discuss the old building.

“It would have cost about $6.5 million to renovate the old building, because of asbestos issues and to bring it up to code for [the Americans with Disabilities Act],” Burgweger said. “Instead, the board [borrowed] $4 million for a new building.”

He said the proposed gymnasium has been put on hold because of financial considerations.
“That’s way down the road,” he said.

Before the board reached decisions on the building, options discussed included closing the high school and sending those students to neighboring districts; consolidating with a neighboring district or dissolving the district.

District officials are awaiting a demolition permit from the Regional Office of Education, Willey said. The construction company hired for the demolition, Copenhaver Construction of Gilberts, is completing background checks on employees who will work onsite.

“Normally this kind of work is done in the summer when there are no children present, so I think the background checks are taking some time,” Willey said.

The entire demolition is expected to take two days.

Late in 2013, Willey said the district conducted a sale of surplus equipment from the building, and the demolition contractor will set aside 500 bricks to be sold as commemorative items.

“It’s a little more work for the contractor, but I think people will want to buy a brick to remember the school,” Willey said.

“I went to school there in the ’50s,” Burgweger said. “It’s sad to see it go, but the building has served its purpose.”

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