Time capsule renewed: Worthwhile long shot

The Gazette Aug. 11, 1994

Time capsule renewed: Worthwhile long shot
AN UNUSUAL community time capsule has stood hidden behind warehouse walls on Cedar Rapids’ southeast side. The former Monroe School, built in 1873 and vacated 50 years later, stands vacant once more at the corner of Third Street and 10th Avenue SE. When sold by the school system in 1923, the building became a grocery warehouse. More warehouse space was constructed around the school’s first floor. Peel that 70-year-old structure away, and the community could restore what may be the oldest school building of its type west of the Mississippi.

Such renovation was proposed before: In October 1991, people in the school district learned of the building’s availability and attempted to seek philanthropic help to rebuild it. They said classrooms on the second floor of the building appeared almost as they did in the 19th century, blackboards and all. Cloak rooms looked as they did in 1910. But rotted boards frame the roof, crumbling bricks outline the chimney and broken windows checkerboard their frames. Philanthropic help never was found.

Now a new attempt is being made to turn the building into a community center as part of a project to turn a neighboring warehouse — and possibly others — into affordable housing convenient for downtown workers. The fledgling, non-profit Metro Area Housing Program (MAHP) wants to seek government funding to revitalize the block bounded by Ninth and 10th avenues and Second and Third streets.

MAHP has already received a $1 million federal grant to apply toward the $5 million cost of renovating one warehouse next to the school. Tax credits, bonds and other federal funds are to be applied to the rest of the costs of turning that warehouse into living space.

Financing the school renovation, however, is much more speculative. This community center could anchor what could become Cedar Rapids’ version of New York’s SoHo district. The effort to convert a warehouse district to residential would be all that much more pale without this anchor.

It’s all a gutsy long shot, given how governmental money for such projects isn’t so easy to come by — and considering how the idea of doing something special to this block has been proposed, but unfunded, for some time now.

But of long shots, good things can come. The whole project will come to be known as Osada, the Czech word for “settlement.” May it also come to be known as uspesny, which is Czech for “successful.”

This community center could anchor what could become Cedar Rapids’ version of New York’s SoHo district.