Iowa City school district committee settles on two planning scenarios

Under both plans, Hoover Elementary School would close

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IOWA CITY – And now the real debate begins.

A committee that has spent weeks helping to craft a facilities plan for the Iowa City school district settled Wednesday night on two options for the school board to consider.

The main difference between them is that one calls for the closure of three elementary schools and the other just one.

Proposals to close school buildings almost always generate heated and emotional debates, as the Iowa City school district experienced in 2009 with the decision to close Roosevelt Elementary School and Cedar Rapids found out last year when closing Monroe and Polk elementary schools.

Already, some Iowa City school district parents have spoken out against just the suggestion of closing their schools.

The school board, which is the ultimate decider, is to receive the recommendations at its July 9 meeting. It’s not known when the board will vote on a long-term facilities plan.

The district wants a 10-year plan to get a handle on growing student enrollment. The district had nearly 12,500 students this past school year, and a consultant has predicted it could add another 3,000 kids in the next decade.

The district got voter approval earlier this year to borrow ahead on up to $100 million in sales tax money for construction projects

On Wednesday night, the district’s facilities steering committee, made up mostly of school and local government representatives and working with a consultant, BLDD Architects, went over four final scenarios.

It narrowed those down to two.

What is known as scenario 1D would use Hoover Elementary while other schools are under construction and then close it to allow neighboring City High to expand, undertake historic restorations of Mann and Longfellow elementary schools, open three new elementary schools, rebuild Hills Elementary and build a new 1,400-1,600-student high school.

The other, 4C, would be the same except for the additional closures of Hills and Lincoln elementary schools.

A slight majority of the 16 committee members said they preferred 1D and gave it the highest score when considering a variety of criteria, including maximizing district resources, addressing enrollment growth and promoting neighborhood schools.

A major difference between the two is many parents and residents near Hoover have said that, although they would regret losing the school, they could accept it because it to benefit their high school, officials said.

Closing Hills and Lincoln likely would draw much more resistance, and people in those communities are already voicing objections.

A slightly different version of 1D was preferred by people at a public meeting earlier this month, said BLDD’s Sam Johnson.

It carries an estimated $250.1 million in construction costs and $96.6 million in annual operating costs.  Each of those ranked second lowest out of the four scenarios.

Johnson said no result would please everyone.

“We want to make sure that we understand that we are trying to develop a plan that preserves those things that are most important to us,” he said.

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