New site

July 26, 2009

As part of the launch of The Gazette’s redesigned Web site, this blog has moved to Future posts will appear on the new site, so please bookmark it.

Talks continue on new Iowa City high school, boundary changes

July 24, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Boundary changes and a new high school.

Those are the big topics on the school board agenda Tuesday night.

At its last meeting, the school board discussed high school boundary changes and received a proposal from Superintendent Lane Plugge to open a high school in the North Liberty area in the fall of 2014.

I’ll have a story in tomorrow’s paper on some of the financial details associated with a new school. A shorter version is available now by clicking here.

Plugge also is expected to provide the board with an update on some preliminary work he’s been doing on possible elementary school boundary changes. He’s asked University of Iowa demographers to divide the district into “building blocks,” Associate Superintendent Jim Behle said Friday. That’s something that has already been done on a smaller scale with the high school boundary scenarios.

Sex offender law a challenge for libraries

July 24, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

Librarians aren’t sure how often they’ll be asked to let someone subject to the new sex offender law inside their libraries.

“I would hope once in every five or six years,” Dee Crowner, director of the North Liberty public library, said with a laugh.

I had a story in today’s paper and online about how libraries are dealing with the new law. It prohibits people convicted of sex offenses against minors from being in public libraries, schools and child-care centers without permission, and from loitering within 300 feet of places intended primarily for children.

Click here to read the story.

With the law being so new (it took effect July 1), Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek also wasn’t sure how often those subject to the law would seek permission to be in a library, but he expects libraries to get requests at some point.

“I think that sooner or later, it will likely come up,” he said.

As of Thursday, there were 267 registered sex offenders in Linn County and 87 in Johnson County, not counting those at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center at Oakdale. It was not immediately clear how many were convicted of sex offenses against a minor and therefore barred from public libraries without permission. 

Librarians say enforcing the law will be tough.

“We’re not legal agencies,” said Tamara Glise, interim director of the Cedar Rapids library.

At an meeting of the Iowa City library board Thursday night, Director Susan Craig said they expect to have a list of the names of all individuals subject to the law. But she too said it would be difficult to enforce.

“It’s not our job to stand at the door and make sure everyone who comes in is legally allowed to be here,” she said.

Before the meeting, I asked her if the library could cross-reference the its database of people who hold library cards with the sex offender registry, and if someone on the registry checked out a book, that would raise a red flag that they were in the library.

But she pointed out that people can have someone else check out materials for them, so using a card does not necessarily mean that person was in the library.

Other local libraries also are considering allowing a designated person, or a courier, get items for someone barred from the library.

One other note. The North Liberty library is in an unusual position in that it is in the same building as the town’s recreation center. The recreation center is not an exclusionary zone under the law, so no one is barred from being in it.

Crowner, the library director, said that made the new law even more complicated for them.

Iowa City bridge may be named for Civil War general

July 23, 2009

IOWA CITY — The Highway 6 bridge in Iowa City may be named in honor of a Civil War general from Burlington.

The Iowa chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War wants to name the structure for John Corse.

Les Weber, the group’s treasurer, went to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors informal meeting Thursday seeking the county’s blessing for the project. The board expressed support for it and will vote on a proposal next week. Weber plans to go before the Iowa City Council next week.

Two plaques would be put on the bridge. They’d be paid for by Weber’s organization. The state, which maintains the bridge, likely would mount the plaques, said Dena Gray-Fisher, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The “Encyclopedia of the American Civil War” and other sources say Corse was a brevetted major general in the Union Army, which means he would have received the higher rank but not higher pay.

Election will bring changes to Iowa City school board

July 20, 2009

IOWA CITY – Some big changes are coming to the Iowa City school board.

The Gazette’s Meredith Hines-Dochterman had a story in today’s newspaper on the intentions of area school board members up for re-election in September.

There are three seats up for election on the seven-member Iowa City school board.  Jan Leff and Tim Krumm said they won’t seek re-election, and Mike Cooper is undecided.

“It’s good to have a change of personnel and a newer way of looking at things,” said Leff, who has served nine years on the board.

Krumm, who is nearing the end of his first three-year term, told Hines-Dochterman he needs to balance work and family responsibilities.

Cooper was unhappy in the spring of 2008 when the board voted to shorten his term by a year to comply with a new state law. When the board was contemplating taking that action, Cooper said  he wouldn’t seek re-election under such a scenario.

“I don’t want to spend half my next year campaigning for an office I was elected to for three years,” he said.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, no one had filed the necessary paperwork to run for the school board, according to the district. Potential candidates have until July 30 to do so.

During the Roosevelt Elementary debate, there was talk of trying to find people to challenge incumbents.

The school district is currently facing a number of major issues – a budget crunch, planning for a third high school, boundary changes – that board members will play a central role in deciding.

The board has indicated it will act soon on addressing the growing enrollment disparity between City High and West High. Board President Toni Cilek has said she thought this board would want to make a decision on that before the Sept. 8 election.

Talk of Iowa City high-rises, art museum downtown

July 16, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – You may remember that there was a lot of talk a couple of years ago about building up in downtown Iowa City.

As I reported today, there has been little visible action on some proposed high-rise building projects since then, primarily because of the downturn in the economy.

That may be changing. The guys from Three Bulls development company say they hope to start construction next spring on a 10-story building with commercial, office and residential space.

Developer Marc Moen has a couple of ideas for high-rises, too. One is at the site of the Wells Fargo building on the Ped Mall. Moen said the bank has a few more years on its lease, but he wants to find a new home for it.

The other site is the northeast corner of Clinton and Burlington streets. Moen said he’s considering his options there.

That includes his continued interest in the University of Iowa art museum being part of his project. That’s an idea that generated some buzz, and controversy, a couple of years ago before fading away. But Moen said with the UI looking for a new home for the museum after it was damaged in last year’s flood, he thought it was a possibility.

That’s his opinion, though, and he said he needs to talk with UI officials about it. If the university is interested, Moen said he’d hold off on developing the corner. If they’re not, he could move forward sooner.

The UI also is considering relocating Hancher Auditorium, which also was damaged in the flood, to the downtown area. Moen said that would provide a big boost to the area and aid the prospects of the high-rise projects, all of which are proposed for just a block from the possible Hancher site.

“That would be huge, just fantastic,” he said.

New Iowa City high school, boundary changes

July 15, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Last night’s Iowa City school board meeting was an eventful one, and there was a lot that didn’t make it into the story in the paper and online.

Superintendent Lane Plugge presented the board with a timeline for opening another high school and several proposals for boundary changes to address high school enrollment disparities.

Those are two of the biggest issues facing the growing district.

The district is supposed to put the proposals on its Web site.

Last night was the unveiling of these plans, so there naturally are a lot of questions that must be answered before the board makes a decision. After the jump are the ones that I can think of. Leave me a comment if you think of others.

Read the rest of this entry »

New IC dog park to open; watch for my dogs to risk injury there

July 14, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The city’s second off-leash dog park will open at 9:30 a.m. July 25.

Known as Rita’s Ranch, it is a three-acre area within Scott Park on the City’s east side. The park is named after JCDogPAC founding member Anne Burnside’s dog Rita.

The city’s first dog park, the 12-acre Thornberry Park, opened three years ago on the northeast side of town.

My wife and I find the dog park to be a pretty entertaining place, although with a baby at home, we haven’t been this year.

The last time we were at Thornberry our dog Bill – we have two Boston terriers, Bill and Pete – nearly drowned in the pond. We coaxed him into the water by throwing a ball in there. (If you’ve ever seen an excitable, athletic Boston at the park who’s psychotically possessive of balls and Frisbees, you’ve likely met Bill.) He swam several feet from the shore to get the ball and then turned around. As he paddled back, he quickly started getting more vertical in the water. Then his head started going lower. I was preparing to go in after him when he was able to touch and get back to land – and safety. We joke that he believes we tried to kill him.

Another time, Pete (whom our vet recently declared one of the biggest Bostons she’s ever seen at 38 pounds) took off after a greyhound that probably was the fastest animal I have ever seen in person. They really are graceful dogs. Greyhounds, that is. Pete, not so much. He was running so fast (for him) and awkwardly that I thought for sure he was going to  break a leg. Needless to say, he didn’t catch the greyhound.

One more quick story. I was actually offered this job while I was at the dog park. Lyle Muller, now The Gazette’s editor, called me on my cell phone. I later accepted, and this month marks my third year at The Gazette.

Feel free to share your dog stories in the comment section.

In the photo below, Pete is in the foreground, with Bill behind him.

Bill and Pete

New Iowa City road not a bypass

July 13, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – A new bridge over the Iowa River is expected to open soon.

As I reported in a story today, the bridge is part of a bigger project to link Mormon Trek and Scott boulevards and provide a new thoroughfare on the south side of town.  The new road is known as McCollister Boulevard.

McCollister is not intended to be a new bypass, said Jeff Davidson, the city’s planning and community development director, and Rick Fosse, the public works director. It is expected to provide relief to the busy Highway 6 to the north, but McCollister will be an arterial street with intersections and traffic signals.

“It will clearly be the efficient way to move around south Iowa City, but it will not function as an interstate,” Davidson said.

Once the bridge is finished, McCollister will run from Mormon Trek to a bit east of Gilbert Street in the area south and southeast of the airport.

The eastern stretch of McCollister will be completed as the area developments. Davidson said the city has a general plan for how the street will be aligned.

Old Iowa City council had spunk

July 9, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Former Iowa City Mayor John McDonald died Wednesday at age 65 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

We’ll have a story and the obituary in Friday’s paper.

McDonald was on the City Council from 1982-93. He was Mayor from 1984-85 and 1988-91, according to City Clerk Marian Karr.

McDonald’s tenure on the council was well before my time, but I’ve heard stories about how those councils in the late-’80s and early ’90s could be, depending on your perspective, pretty entertaining and at times divisive. 

There were some strong personalities with differing views on the council. I asked Darrel Courtney, who was on the council from 1986-93 and served as mayor, about this Thursday when we were talking about McDonald.

It was “always very verbal,” was Courtney’s polite way of describing the meetings. As mayor, McDonald had a calming effect and was great at building consensus, he added.

I went back and looked in our archives and found some support for this.

Read the rest of this entry »