Originally Posted Online: May 15, 2013, 5:54 pm
Last Updated: May 15, 2013, 7:29 pm

Moline schools on cutting block have long history

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By Anthony Watt, awatt@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
A student walks by the original entrance to Garfield Elementary School, built in 1901, after school, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The Moline School Board voted to close Garfield and Ericsson as part of a plan to improve education in the district.

The two elementary schools targeted for closure by the Moline-Coal Valley School District have been fixtures of the district and their neighborhoods for decades -- one of them for more than 100 years.

The district is planning to expand Hamilton school while closing Ericsson and Garfield schools, with the stated goals being to improve student performance and save money.

Ericsson, which has about about 170 students, was built in 1969 to replace a nearby school built in the 1870s. Venerable Garfield, built in 1901-1902 to replace an 1880s building that burned in 1901, has about about 280 students.

The plan has met some resistance, particularly from supporters of Ericsson, which serves the tightly knit Floreciente neighborhood.

But neighborhood support did not overcome other factors the school board considered, including academic considerations, age of the buildings and the ability to expand. Those factors helped determine which schools would go and which would grow, according to the district.

Tuesday, Moline school superintendent David Moyer said the district's bond situation gives it the ability to complete a capital project without attempting to alter its portion of the property tax rate and that the closures and expansion would give the district the biggest bang for its buck academically and financially.

"We determined that the Hamilton project was the best project," he said.

The change to larger schools would make it easier for teachers to collaborate when working with students because the plan is meant to reduce the number of single-section or multigrade classes and make class sizes easier to manage, according to documents outlining the plan. The reorganization would also provide bilingual education more uniformly and allow the district to use teachers with special skills, counselors and other support personnel more efficiently, Mr. Moyer said.

The district is anticipating an annual saving of about $350,000 through the reorganization, according to documents outlining the closure plan.

Space and age played a role in the decision, Mr. Moyer said. Ericsson and Hamilton are smaller schools, but the Hamilton property is more able to handle an expansion.

The aging Garfield also has no room for expansion on its property, Mr. Moyer said.

According to the plan outline, Ericsson could become a community center and Garfield would probably be sold. The plan also includes the loss of of a principal, another becoming an assistant principal and the reduction of administrative assistants and custodial staff.

The reorganization is expected complete by 2015, according to the outline.

The Moline school district's board voted 5-2 on Monday night to close Ericsson and Garfield and expand Hamilton.

About 140 people attended the meeting and a number, including board members Ben McAdams and Bob Tallitsch, spoke against the change. The arguments against included the negative effect on the neighborhoods that would lose their schools and the belief that the decisions were being made too fast.

The outline also states the district convened a facilities committee in 2006 as part of its strategic plan. That committee was to make long-term facilities recommendations. A facilities plan was approved in 2011 and, starting in the fall of 2012, the district held a number of public forums to gather more information.

The information gathered from those who attended indicated concerns including maintaining smaller classes, incorporating technology into the curriculum, modernizing buildings and improving them as environments for learning and using tax dollars well, the outline states.

The district believes the Hamilton plan answers those concerns, the outline states.

Documents detailing the plan are available on the district website at http://molineschools.org/op_plan.html.

Garfield School:
Named after: James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States. President Garfield was a Civil War veteran. He had only been president for a few months when he was shot in 1881 and died a few weeks later of complications related to his wounds.
Type: Elementary.
Built: 1902 or 1901.  The school replaced one built in the 1880s and burned down in 1901. In 1955,  a gymnasium and more classrooms was added.
Area: 37,621 square feet
Height: Three stories for original and single story for the addition.
Number of students: about 280.

Ericsson School
Named after: John Ericsson, a Swedish inventor.  During the American Civil War, he invented the ironclad warship Monitor, which was the Union military's answer to the Merrimack, a Confederate ironclad. The two ships battled each other indecisively in 1862, and both survived the battle.
Type: Elementary.
Built: 1969. The current structure replaced a nearby older version built in the 1870s, which made it the oldest in Moline when it was demolished.
Height: two-story classroom section with a one-story gymnasium.
Area: 22,912 square feet.
Number of students: about 170.

Hamilton School
Named after: Alexander Hamilton, an aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He was killed in 1804 during a duel with Aaron Burr.
Type: Elementary.
Built: 1952.
Area: 17,075
Height: one story
Number of students: about 137.

Information provided by the Moline School District and the websites of the White House, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Encyclopedia Britannica.