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ICCSD updates local governments on diversity and facilities plans

Marla Swesey, president of the Iowa City School Board, and board member Jeff McGinness updated mayors, council members and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on the district’s diversity policy and facilities master plan during a Joint Cities meeting Monday, April 29, in Iowa City. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig provided a little history lesson Monday, April 29, as representatives of the county, municipalities and school districts of Johnson County prepared to hear an update from the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). The quarterly meeting between the governmental entities is referred to as the Joint Cities meeting, though county and school district officials are also participants.
“That’s how Joint Cities got started,” Rettig said. “The schools were going out where we didn’t have roads, sewer, or water, and the urban cities decided they’d better start talking about this. It all had to do with the school districts.”
ICCSD school board president Marla Swesey and board member Jeff McGinness updated the municipalities on the district’s controversial diversity plan as well as the progress made to date by the Facilities Steering Committee.
“We passed the diversity policy (in February, by a 4-3 vote) and right now we’re investigating all of the things we can do to help with (implementing the policy),” Swesey said. A consulting firm is currently conducting a study and working with the Facilities Steering Committee to see how the policy fits in relation to current and future buildings in the district. While Swesey said, “We have given time for those things to happen,” she did not give a specific timeline for implementation. “Nothing right now is going on except we’re just keeping a watch on how we can make that work.” The policy was crafted in an attempt to tackle perceived socioeconomic disparities throughout the district.
Also in progress is work on the district’s Facilities Master Plan. McGinness, a steering committee co-chair, told the group, “We retained an out-of-state consulting firm (BLDD Architects of Decatur, Ill.). Their job was to walk every building, every hall, every classroom.” The $167,520 contract (with an additional amount for reimbursable expenses not to exceed $10,500) calls for BLDD to perform an assessment of what he called educational adequacy, as well as to determine the cost to operate, cost to maintain and the cost to upgrade each facility.
McGinness said they were looking to see, “what we would need to have every room of every building enter into a 21st century classroom concept.” McGinness also said BLDD was to perform a capacity analysis of each building in order to see what the capacity would be if the district were to switch to a full, 21st century education delivery model. The result showed numbers substantially less than the stated capacities of the buildings.
“I think the numbers that they have are not necessarily pie-in-the-sky, but a best-case scenario goal for us to work toward,” he said. Currently, the administrative team is taking the numbers and looking at how they really use our rooms. McGinness added, “We’re going to have our own option of district capacity.”
The second major task for the committee and BLDD is to look at the district’s facilities and create a long-term plan, rather than be reactive to changes in enrollment. ”Let’s actually plan ahead in a more efficient manner,” McGinness said. The plan would address building high schools, junior highs, additions and modifications in a more efficient manner as well as the placement of any future elementary schools.
McGinness tied the effort in with the diversity policy, saying it is the committee’s goal– as well as the board’s– to assist Superintendent Stephen Murley and the administration in managing and implementing the policy, “in the least painful way possible for those who live in our community.” The process is on-going, he said. The steering committee has held a forum, three committee meetings that were open to the public and three visioning sessions to gather public input. McGinness said he was, “a little bit underwhelmed with the turnout,” but not overly surprised. More public input was to be taken at a steering committee meeting scheduled for Monday, May 6, as well as at a trio of Master Plan Workshops to be held on Saturday, May 11, Monday, May 13, and Tuesday, May 14. The final steering committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 22.
At the May 6 meeting, McGinness anticipated a variety of scenarios to be presented for consideration. “Here’s what you can do in a high school level, junior high, and again the full gamut of build new, build additions, upgrade and even retire.” Over 160 scenarios were conjured up, but have since been pared down by half or more. “Some things we knew just wouldn’t fly in the district, such as closing City High.” The steering committee will take the scenarios and trim the list down even further. What survives will go to BLDD for a QLEO analysis (Quantified Learning Environment Outcomes). This analysis looks at the cost of maintaining a facility and the true cost of ownership over a 10-20 year span.
“That way, when we have a list of say, five scenarios, we can look at this and say from a pure numbers standpoint, ‘this is what it would cost to do this,’ versus another scenario, knowing that all of our decisions aren’t going to be based purely on what the dollars are,” McGinness said. Once the list is down to three or four fleshed-out ideas, the school board will likely weigh-in on the matter. A timeline posted on the district’s website calls for a final master plan to be delivered to the district by Monday, June 3.
In the meantime, however, work is already underway in some areas. “We’re moving forward making decisions, pursuing land acquisitions, and doing certain upgrades,” McGinness said. The board, he noted, has directed Murley to solicit bids for an upgrade and addition to Penn Elementary in North Liberty as well as air conditioning work. Also, an, alternative climate control solution will be tried at Lincoln Elementary in Iowa City.
“We still have to move forward with the business knowing some of those are just going to have to be plugged-into the long term vision and plan that we adopt.”

Steering committee meeting Wednesday, May 22, at 5 p.m.; ICCSD Educational Services Center, 1725 N. Dodge St., Iowa City
Master plan workshops
• Saturday, May 11, at 9 a.m.
• Monday, May 13, at 9 a.m.
• Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m.
Parkview Church, 15 Foster Road, Iowa City
To provide input to the steering committee, send an email to OneVision@IowaCitySchools.org.