Steering committee narrows down school district facility options


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And then there were two.

After nearly four hours of tumultuous back-and-forth debates over a number of building-change scenarios, the Iowa City School District’s Steering Committee for Facilities Master Planning is now ready to present two preferred plans to School Board members.

The committee is made up of representatives from city councils, the district, Davenport-based BLDD Architects, and teachers.

As the district mulls its options for the next 10 years, the future of nine district buildings continues to remain in limbo in light of a $100 million improvement plan expected to accommodate growing enrollment levels while updating some buildings.

“Planning is about preserving opportunities and looking at what is coming down the pipe,” said Sam Johnson, the director of the PK-12 Design group for BLDD Architects.

An education-facilities planning firm estimates the district will have 15,140 students in 2022-23, up from 12,767 in 2013-14.

Seemingly endless options abounded before the closing announcement, including the construction of three new elementary schools and a third high school, historic renovations to Longfellow and Mann, a new parking garage at City Highm, and expansions at the junior-high level.

In the end, however, scenario 1d and 4c moved forward in the divided discussions that turned out dozens of local parents, former students, and educators for the district-wide impacts.

Under scenario 1d, the district’s smallest school, Hills Elementary, would be rebuilt at its current site with the addition of 100 more students. The former Roosevelt Elementary, now repurposed as the Roosevelt Education Center, would serve as a “swing” elementary school pending renovations to Longfellow and Mann. Additionally, a 100- to 150-student addition at North Central Junior High in North Liberty would feed help feed into a new 1,400- to 1,600-student high school. Two Iowa City and one northern Johnson County elementary school would also open.

Scenario 4c calls for the same measures as 1d; however, Hoover Elementary would serve as the “swing” school until expansion is needed at nearby City High and Hills and Lincoln would be shuttered.

Kerri Barnhouse, who has taught at West High for 19 years, has watched socioeconomic demographics grow alongside enrollment. She said the Iowa City community has never been more united on this issue.

“When the scenarios and the decisions of the district don’t represent public opinion, it increases the perception that there is another agenda here,” she said. “So many people in this community have answered the call to come to those meetings. School closings are on the agenda, even though they aren’t what the overwhelmingly amount of people want.”

Crying foul to the current scheduling of district input sessions, Barnhouse suggested a Thursday afternoon inservice day should be established, on which teachers would examine the scenarios and gather their own feedback. Adamant about keeping all district schools open, she said by constructing a third high school, pending approval by North Liberty residents, would increase the availability of complete student extracurricular participation.

“If you are second best [at City or West High], it means nothing.”

Iowa City City Councilor Michelle Payne, who has previously spoken in favor of moving ninth-grade students to junior high after a fourth junior high is built, said the steering-committee members should remind themselves that they are merely that.

“We don’t know what’s feasible and what’s not in all scenarios. Let the school board decide what works, she said.

For former School Board candidate, Jim Tate, the only viable school closing lies in Hoover Elementary, which he says provides adequate land for City High to expand onto. However, the entire scenarios trace back to one aspect: money.

“I can’t wait to see what the total bill is,” he said of the current proposals. “That’s money out of the general fund and when we do that, that’s [cutting] teachers. Is this worth teachers?”

The committee is to present its preferred options, along with community reactions during a July 9 meeting.

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