Iowa City School Board votes to wait on decision over contested City High practice field renovations


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Though renovating City High athletics fields is being debated by district parents, Iowa City School Board members said they aren't ready to make a decision.


Two practice fields at City High, which has about half the total practice space of West High, often have standing water and mud because of a geothermal heating system installed for the school building in 2005. Damage from the installation caused school's upper field to drain into the lower field and other areas downhill.

Officials are still calculating the total cost of the damage.

"I think [renovating the field] would be an important project for the School Board to undertake," City High parent July Ellis said. "It might be a little expensive, but it will be fixed, and we won't have to keep spending money over and over."

In 2011, City High hired a contractor from Iowa State University to assess the fields, who said the district would either need to repair the field, install a highly monitored real turf field, or an artificial turf field.

However, some board members pointed to other facility concerns in the district — such as a possible new high school — that would require extensive spending.

District Superintendent Stephen Murley said the field project has not dropped in priority but only needs to be voted on by the board.

"As we went through and tried to prioritize, we as a board had a problem with the hundreds of projects that would have to be moved," he said. "We thought it would be more suitable as a capital project especially due to the fact that it would have to displace so many other projects."

The district's capital projects include those that can be done at any time with a vote from board members. The fund includes $14 million in unreserved funds designated for grades K-12 projects and $32 million designated for grades nine through 12.

"At this point we need more information," board member Jeff McGinness said. "We're lacking information for a cost-based analysis. We're going to have to decide whether we want to regrade and resod or pay for the artificial turf now up front."

Steve Miller, district foundation board member, said the field project could easily be done on a short-term basis.

"If one would look at the field, there is about a 30- foot drop in elevation," he said. "It should not be impossible to improve the drainage of the field. It's difficult with the geothermal work that's been done, but it's not cardiovascular surgery."

Some West High parents sent a letter Jan. 30 to West High Principal Jerry Arganbright expressing concern over district considerations to use School Infrastructure and Local Option funds and Physical Plant and Equipment funds to pay for a renovated City High field.

"As taxpayers, an artificial-turf project for athletics doesn't really sound like a high priority when you consider all the other priorities," it read. "In our opinion, it will be viewed as a 'want' versus a 'need.' It seems like City High has a list of 'wants,' as with every school in the district."

But West High parent Chris Lynch said he would support the City High project as long as the board believed it was the most effective use of funds.

"If there's critical support, I would agree with [the field project]," he said. "But I think we need to be able to see the costs side-by-side."

McGinness said the possibility the field repairs would affect other projects greatly influenced the board's decision.

"We don't have enough money to fund every project in the district," he said. "City High has money set aside for regrading and resodding, but the question is whether they should use it now or not."

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