Iowa City School Board Closing Hoover for Expansion

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa City school board decided Tuesday night that in order to add schools to the district, it needs to close one.

That conclusion was not popular with the few dozen people at the meeting, many of them parents of the school targeted for closure, Hoover Elementary.

"I would say that the public well of trust is running dry," said parent David Puderbaugh.

Despite that, the school board voted 5-2 to adopt a long-term facilities plan that calls for Hoover Elementary, 2200 E. Court St. in Iowa City, to be shuttered at some point after spring 2018. Board President Marla Swesey and Tuyet Dorau cast the dissenting votes.

The plan, which will direct construction projects in the fast-growing district for the next decade, also includes a new 1,500-student high school opening in fall 2018, three new 500-student elementary schools in the next few years and renovations and additions at other schools.

The construction costs in the plan are estimated at $260.4 million.
It was school closures – Hills and Lincoln elementary schools and the Theodore Roosevelt Education Center also were considered for elimination but were spared – that were the focus of a contentious debate in recent weeks.

While the district has received feedback supporting school closures, dozens of speakers at school board meetings this month have been unanimous in their opposition.

On Tuesday night, that included 6-year-old Lily Lumb.

"I think Hoover's special because I can walk to school and I like it because I don't really like to drive that much," she told the board. "And I don't really want to leave any of my friends."

She was among a dozen people wearing red "save Hoover" shirts.

It seems counterintuitive to some that a district projected to add 3,000 students in the next decade would close one or more schools. But district administrators have said that building new schools without closing what they consider less efficient existing ones would require cuts elsewhere. Craig Hansel, the district's chief financial officer, said last week that could mean lower pay raises for teachers and larger class sizes.

Hoover was identified because of the desire to eventually expand neighboring City High, with the facilities plan calling for a 300-student addition.

Supporters of the plan said they believed City High needs to expand so that its enrollment is similar in size to West High and the new high school. They also noted there are a few elementary schools within walking distance of Hoover.

"We're not taking a school out of a neighborhood that doesn't have other schools there," board member Sarah Swisher said.

Dorau, in arguing against closing any schools, pointed to projections in the facilities plan that show elementary school enrollment and capacity about equal in 10 years, leaving "no wiggle room."

Also, school officials acknowledged they don't know what will go on the Hoover site.

"I think the reality is we're talking about Hoover becoming a parking lot or athletic fields," Dorau said.

The board's motion says Hoover will not close before the 2017-18 school year and Superintendent Stephen Murley must come back with a preliminary timeline by this November.
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