Brick by brick, an era is coming to an end | News, Sports, Jobs

TR PHOTOS BY SOREN PETERSON AND RUBY BODEKER – Part of the west side of the Gladbrook School campus is pictured June 4 as the demolition process begins.

GLADBROOK — Brick by brick, the heart of the Gladbrook community has crumbled in recent days as the city’s entire school complex on Washington Street is demolished.

The demolition is the final chapter of the school buildings that once housed the Gladbrook Community School District, which dated back to 1881, when Independent District Number 2 in Spring Creek Township became Independent District of Gladbrook.

Gladbrook was the ninth town in Tama County to establish an independent school district. Over the years, the campus has undergone multiple renovations and additions. A gymnasium was built in 1916. An addition that had been made to the original building in 1892 was demolished in 1929.

A massive fire destroyed much of the gymnasium on March 24, 1951, but through superior grace the main playing floor was salvaged and eventually reused. In 1953, following the fire, a six-room elementary building was added to the northeast side, along with a new gymnasium, auditorium, and music building.

An eight-room primary school was added in 1958. A 1967 bond referendum which received over 90% support in all quarters demolished the original 1881 building, and a new educational wing and swimming pool were added.

Rubble piles up outside a set of gates on the north side of the Gladbrook School campus on June 4 during the early stages of the demolition process. The windows and almost everything inside the building had been removed by this point.

But 30 years later — following the farm crisis of the 1980s that hit the rural farming community as hard as anywhere else in Iowa, and after many years of sharing athletics with their northern neighbor Reinbeck — the history of the Gladbrook Community School District began to shift.

By name, the district effectively ceased to exist after its official reorganization with Reinbeck on July 1, 1998 – becoming one half of the new Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District.


For a number of years, the two communities – which lie approximately 17 miles apart, Gladbrook in Tama County and Reinbeck in Grundy County – each educated their own elementary students while that Gladbrook housed the college and Reinbeck housed the grammar school. The arrangement is not uncommon for many consolidated districts across the state of Iowa, including the nearby Union Community School District, which has school buildings in Tama and Black Hawk counties.

But as Iowa’s small towns and rural spaces continue to bleed population into big cities and other states — and, in turn, fewer children are attending local schools just down of the block – many districts have made the pragmatic, yet devastating, choice to close one (or more) of their community’s buildings.

Gladbrook became one such community after the 2014–15 school year, when its K-8 building was closed. As a result of this decision, the number of certified enrollments for the district suffered a significant shortfall as a significant number of Gladbrook parents made the choice to open up enrollment for their children in neighboring districts, in especially GMG.

In the decade before the school closed, the GR district had an average of 67.37 open resident students enrolling outside the district. This was a fairly reliable measure from year to year, and the total number of enrollments was also steadily declining over this period.

But after the 2014-15 school year – the year Gladbrook, a community of less than 1,000 people, lost its school – GR’s open enrollment numbers saw an increase of almost 79% with 125 students enrolled for the 2015-2016 school year compared to the total of 70 students from the previous school year.

Just over 140 open GR students enrolled in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years; approximately 156 open students enrolled in 2018-2019; about 162 did the same in 2019-20.

In a Grundy Register article published in April 2018 following the failed September 12, 2017 vote to disband the GR district and send students to five neighboring districts after a petition was filed in response to the closure of the Gladbrook Building, GR School Board member Doug Rowe of Gladbrook was quoted about the vacant campus.

“I don’t think anyone is happy with it because it didn’t really need to be like this, but now that it is, something positive has to happen with this facility… The city and the school both want it to be as positive as possible,” Rowe said in the article.

About four years later, the decision to demolish Gladbrook School was finalized at a meeting of the GR School Board on February 16, 2022.

lose your identity

Although the Gladbrook Panthers ceased to exist once the district began sharing athletics with Reinbeck in 1988, many still identify as such in the community.

The Times-Republican reached out to several people to comment on this story, but most declined, citing how painful demolition, closure and even consolidation are to discuss, as well as the conflicts of interest that keep them from being recorded.

But the Times-Republican received numerous comments from Gladbrook residents and graduates who asked to remain anonymous.

“My husband says he remembers sitting in class and watching the construction of the east building. I taught there for four years. I am furious. There are very upset people in town,” said a Gladbrook resident.

“Of course, Gladbrook School wasn’t the fanciest school around, but it had been completely updated over the years with things like a new roof, new gymnasium flooring, windows, etc.” said another resident, before continuing: “It hurts a lot personally. It’s so difficult when I walk past the elementary, middle and secondary parts of the building. I remember so many special memories I had in every room. Beyond me, there are thousands of other Gladbrook alumni who have also passed through these rooms. It is more than just a building, it is a place where so many of us have a special place in our hearts and it kills us to see it demolished now.

“Beyond the Gladbrook School building itself, it feels like the central part of Gladbrook – as well as its future – has been swept away.”

Future plans

According to earlier reports in the Sun Courier, the demolition of Gladbrook School will include the removal of everything except the sidewalks.

At the February GR School Board meeting, GR Superintendent Erik Smith indicated that the district would do its best to coordinate the demolition so as not to interfere with Gladbrook’s 100th annual Corn Carnival which is scheduled to take place this weekend. end.

When contacted for this story, the GR Superintendent’s Office said demolition work – which was not yet complete – had been halted ahead of the annual Gladbrook Festival, but would resume the week next.

In an email to The Times-Republican, Smith said final plans for the old school site had yet to be developed, but the GR school board would begin discussing the matter at its meeting. of July.

No plans have been discussed regarding the return of any type of building to Gladbrook, Smith added, apart possibly from bus storage.

“When the building was closed there was talk of the building being demolished and many felt that a promise had been made to the citizens of Gladbrook,” Smith said. “After touring the building and speaking with a few citizens of Gladbrook as well as city leaders, I felt this was the right thing to do. With the condition of the building, this was the best option. It might not be the most popular decision, and I can understand why, but it was a decision we thought was the best course of action as we move forward.

When contacted by The Times-Republican, a Gladbrook town official said an informal discussion had taken place regarding the possible transfer of ownership of the former Gladbrook School to the town by the school district.

So while dozens, if not hundreds, of Gladbrook Community School District alumni visit the community this weekend to celebrate 100 years of Corn Carnival, they will also have the opportunity to stroll one last time. at their old school – outside the chain – link fence and with the demolition frozen for the moment – to say goodbye.

The demolition of Gladbrook School certainly won’t be the last to take place in Iowa, as consolidations tend to come in waves every 15 years or so, with reorganizations raining down in subsequent years.

But every building mattered and as such the loss had to be observed.

Go Panthers.

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