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North Central Junior High prepares for expansion

Improvements to both interior and parking anticipated late next year
This concept illustration, looking northwest, demonstrates the expansion plans for North Central Junior High, including a larger gymnasium and cafeteria and a two-story classroom wing. The school anticipates substantial growth in the coming years and plans to expand its gymnasium, library, music room and parking, as well as add a two-story classroom wing. (illustration by SVPA architects)

NORTH LIBERTY– If all goes to plan, traffic jams, cluttered halls and a cramped gymnasium will be a thing of the past for North Central Junior High late next year. The school is preparing for expansions to both the interior and exterior, to match its growing population, with construction likely to begin during the upcoming school year.


To improve the flow of traffic, North Central will see various improvements to its parking layout in both the front and rear lots. Director of Facilities Duane VanHemert for the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) took a calculated and thorough approach to resolving these structural issues, as explained to the North Liberty City Council during its June 26 session.
“The first thing I did, when I knew we were going to have to deal with this, is I watched about three hours of video,” he recalled, referring to the security camera at the front door of North Central.
“We identified a bottleneck right inside the roundabout, and the reason it’s there is because we had people trying to crisscross both directions,” VanHemert explained.
The primary pickup point for both buses and parents is the front door, which is the closest door to the roundabout.
“People were trying to shortcut right there, into that front lot, and that’s where the bottleneck was, right in the worst possible spot,” he said. “So we really think this will improve it.”
While buses will still use the front for pickup and drop-off, a new parent drop-off point will be established at the west end of the building, and will feature a one-way lane.
All parking at the school will be converted to diagonal parking. VanHemert said while sacrificing a few spaces, it will force drivers to move in one direction and use a natural inclination to follow the diagonals.
The plan identified more spaces for possible future parking, as North Central anticipates an additional 250 students over next five to six years.
The northeast end will make way for increased staff parking, with the potential for security gates. Safety measures already installed at North Central include a camera system, security alarms and a district-wide radio system. 
“We’re refining the system so you can grant access to somebody from an off-site location if you have a proper code,” the facilities director noted.
Another goal is to allow the fire department better access to the building via an east side fire lane. “That’s steep terrain back there– it’s made for goats,” VanHemert chimed.
Currently, about 8,000 cubic yards of excess dirt are being moved from Grant Elementary, which hosted its groundbreaking ceremony May 22, to the north side of North Central to create a practice fill. As of late June, only 25 percent was moved due to weather. The facilities director described the current green space of North Central as “lacking.”
“It’s there, but it’s not usable,” he observed.
Aesthetically, the exterior will become an extension of what’s currently in place. The design will maintain its modern style boasting high masonry content, numerous wall offsets and roof variety to match the existing building.


A two-story classroom addition will be constructed at the front of the building. Since the elementary schools of North Liberty prefer to use North Central for their music programs, a new music room will also be developed below the classrooms.
The school’s kitchen will be expanded with the cafeteria extending to back of building and allow for a safer walkway, in a fashion similar to Liberty High School. The incorporation of high countertops, for bar stools, will let the kids feel like they’re more in a high school environment VanHemert remarked.
Above the cafeteria expansion will be an enlargement to the library, though it won’t stretch as far back as the cafeteria.
The school currently suffers from a lack of athletic court space in its gymnasium, located at the rear of the building.
“That’s probably the biggest deficiency of this building,” the facilities director observed.
The addition will utilize the slope of the school grounds and have the building hug the hill, similar to the Carver-Hawkeye Arena, in Iowa City, with the entrance at ground level and a descent to the court.
To do otherwise, VanHemert explained, would have required 15-to 20 feet of fill dirt. New locker rooms will also be constructed.
The district hopes to have the project ready for bid in early August. Construction will likely begin after school starts. All additions will be outside of the interior building and isolated for construction, with anticipated completion by fall 2019.
More detailed scematics of the expansion can be viewed in the June 26 North Liberty City Council packet on northlibertyiowa.org.