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Long-range plan puts new high school last

IOWA CITY– A majority of board members indicated their willingness to release funds previously slated for a new high school and put them to use in a facilities timeline that includes mostly existing buildings.
Board members generally agreed with a facilities plan from the ICCSD administration, and both groups seem intent on fixing up several grade schools, building a new elementary school in Coralville or North Liberty by 2015 and putting an addition on North Central Junior High school (NCJHS).
Penn Elementary and other primary schools would get upgrades before North Central Junior High gets theirs and well before a new high school, which ICCSD Superintendent Steve Murley penciled in as a long-term ICCSD facilities project.
Penn was foremost on Murley’s list, and several board members concurred on the need there. Board president Marla Swesey said Penn’s situation was appalling.
The school’s plan for a Penn addition would add six full classrooms for an estimated $7 million.
From a facilities standpoint, Murley said, a major challenge for the district was the lack of definition in terms of scope, cost and schedule.
No date was attached to a new high school but NCJHS expansion work was tentatively dated for 2014 and a new west/northwest elementary school would open in 2015.
If the money is not used for a high school by 2017, then the set-aside amount–over $3.2 million per year– can be diverted elsewhere after the 10-year local option tax is dissolved.
Or the board can change its own policy and act on the district’s primary and middle school facility needs sooner than that, as suggested by board member Patty Fields after her reading of board policy.
“We have a lot of needs in our district,” she said.
Most board members seemed to agree and gave approval for the release of funds designated for the new high school to aid existing buildings and create new space for classrooms.
Board member Jeff McGuiness said he counted 29 of the temporary buildings known as modular classrooms and declared a goal to eliminate them over the next several years as school additions are made around the district.
Citing low interest rates, board member Tuyet Dorau asked if the time was right to seek a bond for a new high school.
McGuiness, the board’s chair of the facilities committee, said trying to bond for a new school should be an option.
He also said he was back and forth on an early release of the allocated funds for a new high school.
If SILO funds were unallocated, he said, the schools should also buy a parcel of land to secure the site of a new high school while real estate is available. He noted that North liberty had ripe parcels and that a land deal would be a show of good faith for those who are waiting for a new high school in the northwest part of the district.
Allocated or unallocated, McGuinness said, public trust in the district could wane as school needs go unmet district-wide while the money piles up.
Murley said ICCSD administrators could arrange a closed board session later in the month to look at parcels of land in consideration around the district for new schools, including a new high school.
Based on the district’s high school study, the collected SILO money for a new high school, expected to reach $32 million by 2017, is still about $15 million short of the funds needed for a new high school.