Monroe Elementary School History

Monroe Elementary School was one the seven elementary schools built in 1961 by the Cedar Rapids Community School District to meet the demands of the growing Cedar Rapids population on the districts facilities. The seven new elementary schools (Monroe, Madison, Truman, Grant, Eisenhower, Adams and Fillmore) were strategically placed throughout Cedar Rapids based on concentrations of populations, projected growth and proximity to upper level schools the elementary population would eventually graduate into. For construction, local Architecture Firm Brown & Healey designed the Monroe and Madison Schools following the prevailing trend toward single-story, horizontal massing taking advantage of postwar materials like steel framing and plate glass. Flat expanses of construction with deep overhangs, exposes trusses, lower ceilings, and wide corridors were the preferred design element of mid-century construction. The single story was determined to be more economical with savings made from the lack of stairs and the ability to use lighter foundations and supporting exterior walls. This approach to economy was practiced nationwide with architects widely utilizing poured concrete slab construction, lightweight steel framing with exposed trusses, and large expanses of glazing. This design was also preferred in postwar schools with the idea of flexibility and future expansion in mind. Monroe Elementary School served the southeast side of Cedar Rapids for 51 years. The school was an elementary school during the majority of this time but transitioned to an Early Childhood education Pre-K and Kindergarten in 1990-1991 school years. In 2011 the Cedar Rapids Community School District decided to close Monroe School due to declining enrollment and district restructuring. There was little community opposition.

What’s Next?

In 2013, Affordable Housing Network, Inc. (AHNI) first proposed a 43 unit Planned Unit Development to the Cedar Rapids Zoning Commission on the 7 acre site. AHNI proposed renovating the school building into apartments and adding 3 and 4 bedroom townhomes. The development was approved but funding for the project fell through. Still holding the option to purchase the property, AHNI continued to look for other funding sources to complete the project.

In 2015 Monroe Elementary was the only school left of the 1961 construction group that had not been significantly altered or sold. The school is awash in color with an original mural and ceramic tile, in many hues, lining the building’s corridors. Original wood doors and hallway tile flooring were still in excellent condition. The long and wide corridors, expansive use of glazing, deep overhangs and exposed beams and trusses were all still visibly appealing. The windows with their alternating light configurations remained intact throughout the building. Even the 1960’s fire truck constructed of steel pipe was being used on the playground. For all practical purposes Monroe Elementary School was a very well preserved example of mid 20th century modern, postwar elementary school. In 2015 an application was submitted and approved to put Monroe School on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation opened up the door to new funding for the Monroe Elementary School Project.

Monroe Place Current and Future

The rehabilitation and preservation of Monroe Elementary School, renamed Monroe Place, was led by a talented team. ASK Studio, a leader in Iowa in historic preservation projects, re-designed the building into 19 apartment units within the existing foot print of the building. The classroom spaces were converted to housing without subdivision of the historic spaces and the historic windows, corridors, and finishes were retained wherever possible. The general contractor, Woodruff Construction, built thirteen two bedroom, three bedroom, and three four bedroom units. The two story ceiling height of the gymnasium, boiler room and cafeteria allowed unique loft units to build in those spaces.

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