By Molly Hunter
The Iowa City School Board approved acceleration for some of the district’s planned construction projects on Tuesday evening.
The original motion the board voted on was a full accelerated version of the district’s Facilities Master Plan.
Full acceleration was stopped on a 4-3 vote with board Vice President Lori Roetlin and members J.P. Claussen, Shawn Eyestone, and Phil Hemingway against and board President Janet Godwin and members Ruthina Malone and Paul Roesler in favor.
However, the board did approve a motion for partial acceleration of the plan at Alexander, Tate, North Central, Southeast, and City High. The motion for partial acceleration passed 6-1, with Hemingway casting the sole opposing vote.
In September, Iowa City voters approved a $191 million bond referendum to help fund Facilities Master Plan projects from 2018 to 2024. Sixty-five percent of the votes cast were for the school bond, with 35 percent against. Proponents of the bond said the additional money is needed to complete the master plan on schedule.
Detractors feared the general language of the bond could allow the School Board to use the money for unintended purposes. Consistency was also a concern, with voters worrying the Facilities Master Plan might be changed, potentially affecting how the bond money is used.
The plan includes 20 schools in the district and projects address capacity needs; music, art, and sports facilities, air conditioning, and renovations of old structures to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Those who voted against the bond referendum in September expressed concern that the most important projects, such as ADA accessibility and air conditioning, would not be prioritized.
Godwin supported full acceleration.
“The salient point in the motion is the six-month review,” she said.
Godwin said the review gives the board authority to make changes as the process moves forward, if needed.
“Committing to the accelerated plan is the right thing so there’s no uncertainty in the district on whether other projects will be accelerated or not,” she said.
Godwin said the district needs the accelerated plan to keep up with the growth of the district in a way that costs taxpayers the least.
According to projections made by the district, the accelerated plan could have saved the district more than $10.8 million.
Saving money is a priority, Malone said, because it would show community members they did the right thing in trusting the board with the money from the bond referendum.
Roetlin said the board is splitting hairs in its argument over acceleration.
“There’s a lot of agreement with getting our projects done faster, it’s just a matter of whether we commit to the plan as it is right now with the six-month pause or if we build in a mandatory pause,” Roetlin said.
Roetlin said she wasn’t comfortable approving the full accelerated plan Tuesday evening because she feels the board sometimes gets ahead of itself.
“I sometimes feel like we get ahead of ourselves, and then the board is asked to make decisions very quickly, and I feel as though putting in a mandatory pause would force us to review things ahead of time and not let things get away from us,” she said.
Claussen and Eyestone expressed similar concerns.
Meanwhile, Hemingway said he is completely opposed to acceleration at this point.
“Accelerating this without having a serious discussion on boundaries is putting the cart before the horse,” Hemingway said.
He said he’s also concerned there hasn’t been enough time for the public to comment on the accelerated plan.