Iowa City School District throws out recommendations


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You can pretty much forget the newly established Recommendations “A” and “B.”

That was the general consensus following the Iowa City School Board meeting on Tuesday evening.

On the heels of months of contentious discussion, and a July 9 decision to throw out scenarios in favor of recommendations, the future of a number of facilities in the area’s public-school system remains in question.

So what came about following the nearly four hours of discussion?

Despite the several dozen concerned parents, teachers, and administrators in attendance, David Dude, the School District’s chief operating officer, said the former two recommendations, now nameless, are quite simple.

Both plans now call all for the renovation, not reconstruction or addition of the district’s smallest school, Hills Elementary, but differ beyond that point.

The first also calls for the retiring of Hoover Elementary, in favor of an expansion to nearby City High. The second, a glorified flip-flop, would maintain Hoover as an elementary with no addition to City.  

The decisions to construct three new elementary schools, including two in Iowa City proper, historically mannered renovations to Mann and Longfellow, the construction of a new 1,500-student high school in the north end of the district, and the retiring of the Roosevelt Education Center, would be maintained under one.

The second would be identical to the first, but Hills and Lincoln would serve as “swing” schools for students until renovations or construction of new district buildings are completed. Those facilities would then retire.

But although plans will be mulled further during a July 23 board meeting, board officials, as well as community members, remain torn, particularly in regards to the projected growth patterns of eastern and southeastern Iowa City.

Dude said the East Side elementary could open in the 2016-2017 school year, and after several years of accepting students from Mann or Longfellow, would see its first set of new students by 2019 or 2020.

A number of board members liked the idea of roughly 100-student, six-classroom addition to one side of City High.

“I know we have to have more buildings because we have to have more seats,” board member Karla Cook said, stressing that the maintenance of older buildings should come before or in line with new construction.

Calling into question the 500-student capacity for the three new elementary schools, board member Tuyet Dorau said pending enrollment and population shifts, the district could opt for respective 400- and 200-student elementaries.

Nonetheless, she acknowledged current capacity trends and held firm to her opinion of maintaining elementary buildings over the construction of new athletics facilities.

“From what I hear about Southeast [Junior High] is students are really on top of each other,” she said.

For Hoover parent and Parent Teacher Association President Brianna Wills, a potential looming closure of schools is a disservice to current and future families.

She said despite recent new construction and expansion to buildings on the district’s West and Northwest Sides, East Side growth in the form of new home construction is rivaling and facility upgrades are a must.

Sam Johnson , the director of the PK-12 Design group for Davenport-based BLDD Architects, said the company estimates that a new 400-student elementary would run at a cost of $13 million.

Smaller 200- to 250-student facilities would end up more costly by square footage and maintenance levels, both initially and in the long-run, he said, hovering above the $6.5 million range.

One clear consensus that was taken away by board members and a number of community residents was that local elementary schools should not balloon into the 700-900 student capacity range, now found near Des Moines, in Ankeny and Johnston.

Kerri Barnhouse, a West High teacher and local parent, believes a more creative approach to the district’s future should be pursued.

“I feel like the discussion became deductive,” she said. “We should be thinking more creatively.”
Wills said no matter which side opinions hail from, the effects of the to-be-determined plans will be far-reaching.

“No school will be immune,” she said.

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