IOWA CITY – New information that shows both of the Iowa City school district’s comprehensive high schools are over capacity will influence the years-long debate over opening a new high school, officials said Wednesday.
“Oh, yeah, I think potentially it has a big impact on it,” school board member Sarah Swisher said.
It’s been known that West High has been overcrowded for years, but City High was always believed to have room to spare.
Swisher and others said it was too soon to know what the effect of the capacity report may be, however.
The district this week released slides for a presentation that was to be given Monday on a consultant’s assessment of school buildings. But the meeting was rescheduled for March 25 and district Superintendent Stephen Murley and school board members said Wednesday they needed more details before commenting in depth.
Murley, though, suggested the information could factor into when a new school is built. While most people agree another high school eventually will be needed, there are differences among school board members and in the community on when it should open.
“And the ‘when’ question has been dependent on an analysis of capacity,” Murley said. “And so given what we see on the chart there and the analysis showing that both schools are in excess of capacity, I think what that does is help us start defining when.”
The district currently is planning on opening a new high school in 2020.
A final report from the consultant, BLDD Architects, should be finished in a few weeks. The Decatur, Ill.-based firm was hired to physically assess the district's schools to help with the development of a long-term facilities plan to deal with increasing student enrollment.
What was made available this week is essentially a 37-page slideshow highlighting the firm’s work. It includes charts showing each building’s physical needs, “educational adequacy,” capacity and security.
Swisher guessed that people would be most interested in capacity. That gets at everything from the high school question to discrepancies between the conditions at elementary schools to the controversial diversity policy approved last month.
BLDD puts City High’s capacity at around 1,300 students and West High’s at about 1,700. City has about 1,400 students this school year and West has more than 1,900. BLDD does not give exact numbers, and the school district refused to provide that information.
How exactly BLDD defines capacity is not clear, and school board member Jeff McGinness, who is co-chair of the steering committee considering facilities master planning, said he has a lot of questions about that. But if these are the capacity figures the district uses, it is “behind already” when it comes to planning for a new high school, he said.
“As much as we would like to move somebody from West High to City High to use the existing capacity at City High – well, we don’t have that capacity according to the report,” he said.
Some people have argued students should be shifted to City to use free space before building a new school, while others want a new high school opened as soon as possible.
The assessment also shows that a majority of the district’s elementary schools are overcrowded, a point that many east-side parents have made in recent months. The district plans to build two east-side elementary schools and another in North Liberty.
BLDD also found that West High has about $13 million in needs versus nearly $9 million for City High. In elementary schools, however, it found more needs on the east side of the district.
The east side also has more schools in the bottom half of the “educational adequacy” ranking, which considers physical aspects of a building like the site, mechanical features and security.
The district expects to have a report on enrollment projections, which also will be used for long-term planning, by April 2.