School bells were swapped for doorbells.
The redevelopment of the 1961 Monroe Elementary School into a 19-unit affordable housing apartment building is a model for preserving an underutilized structure, giving it a new lease on life while helping to solve an affordable housing shortage. As the first school building in Cedar Rapids to be converted into housing, Monroe Place was designed with the surrounding neighborhoods and families in mind. This project consisted of redesigning classrooms into two, three, and four-bedroom apartment units within the existing footprint of the building and without subdivision of the historic spaces.
The repurposing of this historic elementary school is a fundamental precedent for preserving underused buildings and making sound choices in use of an existing infrastructure to strengthen Cedar Rapids communities. Monroe Place reinforces the existing relationship amongst the original 1961 elementary school and the adjacent neighborhood for years to come. For residents of Monroe Place, it’s the opportunity to live affordably in a uniquely designed yet familiar space.
The school is awash in color with an original mural and ceramic tile, in many hues, lining the building’s corridors. Original wood doors, hallway tile and cubbies 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 and worth preserving. Classroom chalkboards still line the walls of the apartment units. The windows with their alternating light configurations remained intact throughout the building. The two-story ceiling height of the gymnasium, boiler room and cafeteria allowed unique loft units to be constructed in those spaces. Even the 1960’s fire truck constructed of steel pipe was being used on the playground.
The project is also an example that positive change can happen in small steps. This cherished historic school is now an affordable housing option in the city of Cedar Rapids—Monroe Place is making a difference to a community and serving as an example to many others.
Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Program: Residential/Historic Preservation
Client: Affordable Housing Network, Inc.
Photo Credits: Cameron Campbell, Integrated Studio