UI may host some West High classes as overcrowding continues

BY LUKE VOELZ | MARCH 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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Local high-school students could soon grace the Pentacrest as they head to their next class.

As enrollment at West High continues to grow, Iowa City School Board members said they’re considering moving some classes off campus.

District officials discussed the issue at Tuesday’s Facilities Committee Meeting, though no decisions were made. The school has 1,860 students; its capacity is 1,800.

Board members considered three main options for addressing the issue, which has plagued the district for several years. Those include expanding and remodeling facilities, moving programming off-site, and eventually building a third high school.

Off-site programming would likely involve the University of Iowa and possibly Kirkwood Community College.

Board member Gayle Klouda discussed integrating curriculum outside of the school, where students are sent to different facilities, often other high schools or colleges, for advanced or specialized coursework.

UI officials have expressed interest in hosting engineering programs for local high-school students in the near future.

Klouda said the off-site classes might give the district more time to raise the $1.5 million needed to eventually open a third high school.

“[Off-site classes are] not going to happen immediately, but it could happen significantly earlier than a third high school could happen,” she said.

But West High Principal Jerry Arganbright was skeptical about such a program’s viability. It mainly hinges on how students take to the idea, he said.

“We have not had great success with off-site programming,” he said. “If kids can perceive it as a great opportunity, it could be a success. If we can sell it and kids can buy it as something we clearly don’t have in our high schools, and it’s a nice program, it’s possible.”

Superintendent Steve Murley agreed the time constraints of transferring students to other schools would cut too deeply into a student’s regular curriculum.

“It’s really tough to sell kids a two-for-one,” Murley said. “You’re going to have to give up two periods to get one — you’re driving to City High or the UI.”

Board members also discussed expanding or remodeling West High to accommodate the growing number of students. Arganbright said the school’s crowding comes primarily from cramped hallways, cafeterias, and athletics facilities. District officials predict West High will reach 2,019 students in 2012 and 2,040 by 2014.

“We have the smallest square footage per kid of gym space of all the secondary schools and some elementary schools,” he said. “If you said to me, ‘Could we process 2,000 kids and not go off the cliff?’ the answer is, ‘If we were working toward solutions for the gym and the cafeteria, we could be fine with that.’ ”

Board members also discussed transferring students from West High to City High to even out the overcrowding issues at West High. City High is at 90 percent capacity, and West High is operating at about 120 percent. Officials suggested reorganizing students so both schools are at approximately 110 percent capacity.

But Murley and other officials seemed unsure about the option, because it would cause both schools to be crowded.

“Putting schools at 110 [percent], both schools would come back to you with issues of cafeteria and fieldhouse space,” Murley said.

He said regardless of which action the board chooses to take, the time is now.

“I think it’s important to realize we don’t have the luxury of time, because if it’s building a third high school, we have to get cracking this Wednesday,” Murley said. “If it’s doing something different, we have to get cracking this Wednesday, too.”

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