Iowa City School District Parents Speak Against Closing Schools

By Gregg Hennigan & Mark Carlson, Reporters

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa City school board will save its discussion on a highly anticipated facilities plan for another day, but people in an impassioned crowd made their opinions clear Tuesday night.

And what they had to say at a school board meeting was: Do not close any schools.

"If closing Hoover (Elementary) was a common theme," Hoover parent Chris Liebig said, referring to a presentation summarizing community meetings in recent weeks, "then not closing Hoover was a very, very common theme."

Also Tuesday, in a separate but related action, the school board agreed to buy land for a new elementary school.

On the facilities plan, the school board received two recommendations from a committee for what is to be a 10-year guide for construction projects in the fast-growing school district.

What is called recommendation A would use Hoover Elementary while other schools are under construction and then close it to allow neighboring City High to expand, open three new elementary schools at new sites plus another where Hills Elementary is now and build a new 1,500-student high school.

Recommendation B would be the same except Hills would be closed and not replaced by a new school, and Lincoln Elementary also would be shuttered.

Both proposals also include extensive renovations at the majority of the district's current schools and additions at several buildings.

The school board is not bound by these recommendations and could take pieces from each.

The board will discuss the issue in detail at a work session July 16. Formal action cannot occur at a work session, and the board plans to vote before the Sept. 10 school board election.

Several dozen people packed in to the school board's meeting room, and of the about 20 who spoke, all were opposed to closing schools to make way for newer and bigger ones. Their points were often met with cheers, despite school board President Marla Swesey's request for no applause.

Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek, a Hoover parent, said the district, in its campaign last winter for voter approval of a plan that makes $100 million available to construction projects, did not mention closing schools.

"Hoover families like mine will hold the district responsible for this decision," said Pilcher Hayek, whose husband is Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek.

Hills Elementary and Lincoln Elementary parents also spoke against the possible closure of those schools.

Board member Tuyet Dorau reminded the crowd no decisions have been made.

"I think a little bit of respect on both sides is what is needed, as opposed to premature accusations," she said.

Earlier in the meeting, school board voted 7-0 to acquire 15.78 acres, with two acres a gift, for $482,300 on South Sycamore Street on the southeast side of town for a new elementary school. The seller is Prospect Farms, run by Mike and Tim Lehman.

Swesey said this was the first of a series of property decisions over next several meetings. Superintendent Stephen Murley has said negotiations for land for a North Liberty-area high school and an east-side Iowa City elementary school are nearing completion.

The school board also voted unanimously to pay $2.3 million for the property it currently leases to store school buses. The site, at 2185 S. Gilbert St., is 7.02 acres and has a 9,100-square-foot building. The seller is SG Lease LC and CWG Properties II LLC.
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