IOWA CITY — Plans for open-air plazas, a college-sized basketball court and new cafeteria at City High School were revealed at an Iowa City school board meeting Tuesday.
While some community members worried the additions would conflict with City High’s existing — and, by many accounts, iconic — aesthetics, board members voted to move forward with the plans and a $1.73 million contract with BLDD Architects.
Designing an add-on that would be deferential to the existing school’s architecture was top of mind for BLDD, said BLDD principal Sam Johnson. The goal was to relieve overcrowding, add athletic space and improve lunchtime logistics at the school, 1900 Morningside Dr.
“There is no shortage of challenges to adding to what is arguably one of the most beautiful high schools in the state and in the Midwest,” Johnson told the school board.
The Iowa City school board approved the designs in a 6-1 vote, with Phil Hemingway dissenting, and construction on the project is expected to begin next spring.
City High’s addition is be built on the south side of the campus, where tennis courts and some parking are located.
The addition will feature a monumental stairway entrance and several outdoor plazas that students could access during lunch, BLDD Senior Associate Jean Underwood said.
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A new gym also would be built, featuring a college-sized basketball court with a capacity of about 2,000. The school’s existing gym is to be converted into a fitness room.
Atop the addition is an entryway tower, in a nod to the school’s landmark tower above its front entrance.
“I think all of this coming together really makes our already historic, beautiful campus just absolutely phenomenal,” City High Principal John Bacon said at the meeting. “I think it’s going to be the ideal balance of our classic, historical beauty with modern functionality.”
Most elements of the project will be paid for with funds approved in September, when Iowa City school district voters approved a $191.5 million bond issue. About $30 million is budgeted for City High.
On Tuesday, district Physical Plant Manager Duane Van Hemert said the project is on track to cost just under $30 million. The budget covers mechanical updates — including heating, ventilation and air-conditioning — throughout the school.
The work should be completed by the winter of 2021, according to bond documents.
“Frankly, I think it’d be a wonderful addition to the school,” recent City High graduate Teagan Roeder, 18, said at the meeting. “Having another outdoor space for students to enjoy in the fall and spring and definitely relieve some of the pressure of the library having to be a social space in the school.”
Roeder and some board members expressed concern about the grand staircase leading to the addition’s entrance. Underwood said there will be two wheelchair-accessible entrances at other entrances.
Hemingway, who ultimately voted against the schematic designs, also worried about an overemphasis on athletics and a misuse of taxpayer dollars. Hemingway also opposed the bond proposal last year.
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“I have to keep reminding myself we’re a K-12 educational institution and not a sports franchise,” Hemingway said. “ ... I wonder if our priorities are in the right place.”
The expansion of the high school also will encroach on space now occupied by Hoover Elementary at 2200 E. Court St. The school board voted years ago to close the school, though its fate remains unclear.
A district court judge in September ruled the board had acted outside its legal authority regarding Hoover and ordered its closure be decided by voters. That vote will be held in September 2019, Superintendent Stephen Murley said.
Without parking space at Hoover’s site, the addition would mean a loss of 28 parking spots.
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