Education

Hoover school demolition shouldn't be on Iowa City ballot, Iowa Supreme Court rules

High court decision makes Nov. 5 ballot issue moot

Hoover Elementary School, 2200 E. Court St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The school is slated for demoltion. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Hoover Elementary School, 2200 E. Court St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The school is slated for demoltion. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of the Iowa City Community School District, reversing a 2017 District Court decision saying the school district should have put on the ballot a question about demolishing the former Hoover Elementary.

The opinion issued Friday renders moot a Nov. 5 ballot issue about the former school’s demolition.

“It’s over and done with,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said. “Voters are still going to see that issue on the ballot, but they do not need to vote on it. If they do vote, we will not be tabulating those specific results.”

The auditor will not reprint ballots because of the cost and short amount of time until the election.

The Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case Sept. 18, said the school district was not required to put the issue on the September 2017 ballot.

“We conclude that the demolition of a school building is not a disposition under Iowa Code section 278.1(1)(b) and that the school district properly determined that because the ballot measure was not ‘authorized by law,’ it was under no legal obligation to require the county auditor to place the matter on the ballot,” the opinion states.

The school district put out a brief statement Friday, sharing the court’s ruling.

“We are appreciative that there is definitive guidance from the Iowa Supreme Court,” Spokeswoman Kristin Pedersen said in the statement. The district did not say how officials plan to proceed with the school building following the opinion.

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The Iowa City School Board decided in 2013 to close the former Hoover, at 2200 E. Court St., as part of a master facilities plan that called for upgrades at schools across the district. Voters approved that $191 million plan in September 2017.

Residents who opposed the Hoover closure got enough signatures on a petition to certify a ballot question and wanted it on the September 2017 ballot. But the district did not forward the question to the county auditor, according to a 2017 lawsuit filed by Heather Young, Del Holland and Blake Hendrickson.

Days before the 2017 vote, Johnson County Judge Sean McPartland ruled the district illegally had dismissed the petition, and he ordered the district to put the question on the next regular election ballot.

Gregg Geerdes, representing the plaintiffs, argued Sept. 18 before the Supreme Court the school board violated the law by not giving voters the ability to direct the “sale, lease or other disposition” of school property through a certified referendum.

But Andrew Bracken, an attorney for the district, said “disposition” isn’t the same thing as “demolition,” and the school district is the party that must decide what happens to the school.

This argument swayed the Supreme Court, which reversed McPartland’s decision on the ballot issue and affirmed his decision that the school district was not required to pay damages. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the District Court for dismissal.

The former Hoover school saw its last elementary students in May, but the building still is being used by the district. Tate High School holds classes there while the high school is under construction to add new classrooms, a gym and a secure entrance.

A new Hoover Elementary opened in 2017 at 1355 Barrington Road.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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