IOWA CITY- 2016 was the optimistic date used in a May 2012 school administration report on a hypothetical “North Central High School” for Iowa City Community School District committee meetings on a new high school. The committee used University of Iowa projections that predict an increase to nearly 2,200 students at West High and 1,600 at City High in the next four years.
West High has an official capacity of 1,800 and is currently more than 100 students beyond that limit.
But West High wasn’t always crowded.
When West opened in 1968, 30 years after City High was built, the school took seventh through 12th-graders until Northwest Junior High opened a few years later.
They played a different sports schedule than City High for the first few years too, eventually taking on City in regular conference play.
It took time to fully separate the two schools and welcome new students to West. Some seniors weren’t happy about leaving City for the new school.
“We went to a lot of effort to make them feel a part of the school community,” said former West High Principal Ed Barker.
Barker said about 1,000 teenage Trojans walked West halls and classrooms in the first years of the school’s life.
That was then.
This month, ICCSD officials will examine a number that many call the trigger for a new high school at their July facility meeting.
The number represents high school students in the district, and it has fallen under question because the district has changed the way it counts students since deciding on the number.
The current school enrollment, under the new counting system, puts the number very close to triggering the process of a building a new high school.
Ed Barker, West principal from 1968-1979, has followed the new high school issue for the past few years.
He is still undecided on addressing the district’s current resources and classroom shortage but thinks it would take at least four years, if not longer, to open another high school.
As he recalled it, money for education was plentiful when West High was built.
In 1968, West was easily able to offer curriculum and school programs that were comparable to City High.
Today, both high schools are recognized as among the best in the state and country; West ranked number one on Newsweek’s 2012 list of America’s Best High Schools, and City number five of the country’s 1,000 best schools. The list of schools deemed most effective in turning out college-ready graduates is based on six components: graduation rate, college matriculation rate, AP/IB/AICE tests taken per student, average SAT/ACT scores, average AP/IB/AICE scores, and Advanced Placement courses offered per student.
Barker said he originally thought that if the district shrunk the high schools to 10-12th grade and then expanded at the junior high level, it would be a better option and save having to build a new high school to cover north-side growth.
But he also said North Liberty is a big town that has seen tremendous growth recently.
He said he understood the desire to build a local school not only for the sake of the surrounding community and north side neighborhood identity, but for the safety of the students who commute to West.
The schools have been lucky, Barker said, as many students have been driving several miles from North Liberty to West High without any major accidents (In 2011, Caroline Found’s tragic moped accident was on a route from a church youth group to her home in Iowa City).
Barker also said that a new high school “would make it more difficult for high school students who attend classes at the Iowa City campuses of the Kirkwood Community College and at University of Iowa. There are a significant number of students who do this every year.”
And when students safely arrive in cars?
There’s no parking, said Molly Abraham, West High School Assistant Principal.
West recently added a driveway behind the school as vehicle space. Bus drop-off was split into two doorways to address the glut of student exit and entry.
So how does West staff manage over 1,800 students?
“You get this many kids in a building and you have to make expectations clear,” Abraham said.
Last year, West High also split the lunchroom, setting up a satellite dining space.
This year, they’re piloting a “zero” period; chemistry and physics will start an hour before regular classes to free up class options during the rest of the day.
Over the summer, West High added a fourth temporary building with space for two classrooms, and Abraham predicted West would add more portable classrooms again next year.
A health-science career partnership with Kirkwood Community College was cancelled to make room for English classes in one of the portable buildings this year.
In 2009-2010, a new high school committee made up of 18 members met to discuss a new high school.
Charlie Funk was one of the community members of the group. He recently said he favored a well-informed decision by the current board.
Funk admitted that the schools’ budget situation has made it very difficult to address overcrowding. Budget cuts have severely limited hiring across the state, let alone new high school buildings.
In 2010, the school board voted to set two numbers–one for sixth-grade enrollment and another for total high school students– that would set in motion a new high school construction project.
The first number, 900 total sixth-graders, has already been met. The second, 3,750 high school students, was projected to be surpassed in 2015 by University of Iowa geographers working on population and school enrollment studies for the schools.
But a change in the way the district counts students since the number was set has complicated the matter. The numbers question will be discussed at the July 17 facilities meeting.
Former school board member Gayle Klouda voted for the trigger numbers set in 2010. She said the district would need to build any new school with the flexibility to expand, like they’d done at North Central Jr. High School and Tate High.
In 2010, she said, “by the time we hit this trigger we should have a pretty good idea of what this high school is going to look like.”
A May 2012 administrative report calls the hypothetical school “NCHS,” for North Central High School, and places the 800-student school in the top-50 largest Iowa high schools. There are over 350 high schools in the state.
NCHS’ 800 students would receive instruction from 36 teachers. Some teachers would be brought from West and/or City and represent some $3 million in shifted costs for the schools.
New recurring costs for additional certified staff (additional teachers, principals, counselors, and other staff) at NCHS would run $635,000 to $794,550.
NCHS coaches would be paid $226,000, for comparison, City and West coaches make up $544,700 of the ICCSD payroll.
NCHS clubs would cost about $60,100. Clubs at City and West cost about $150,500.
Total Clubs New School $60,098.88 Total City/West $150,537.32
The building would cost about $1.8 million to operate, this includes a greatest case scenario of running 20 bus routes at a cost of $900,000 annually and would likely decrease busing costs at other high schools.
The ICCSD facility committee will meet on July 17 before the regular board meeting.
Ed Barker with his wife Ethel recently donated his principal’s salary back to the school for a new soccer field at West. The facility was dedicated earlier this year.