By Gregg Hennigan
IOWA CITY — After months of impassioned debate, the Iowa City school board voted Tuesday to close Roosevelt Elementary School and to build a new school a few miles to the west.
With a 7-0 vote, the board sided with Superintendent Lane Plugge, who recommended closing the school, and went against strong public opposition to the plan.
Board members said that Roosevelt, which was built in 1931, was too small and had too many deficiencies to keep open and that building a new school would be better financially.
“This facility is not adequate, especially in comparison to what we … have been able to provide to other students in this district,” board member Tim Krumm said.
The new school, to be built off Camp Cardinal Boulevard in an area known as the Crossings, likely won’t open until the 2011-12 school year, Plugge has said.
About 65 people attended the meeting, a few holding signs that read “Save Roosevelt School.” Of the dozen people who spoke, all but one was against closing Roosevelt, 611 Greenwood Dr.
Katherine Parker Bryden spoke to the board while holding her 22-month-old son, Max. Her family lives near Roosevelt in part so her son could go to the school.
“Schools aren’t factories, and you have to think about stuff besides … the bottom line,” she said.
In January, Plugge made his recommendation to the board to close Roosevelt. The school is in need of major repairs, and Plugge says it would be more cost effective in the long term to build a new school.
Also, Roosevelt is unbalanced in terms of its racial and socioeconomic makeup, and Plugge wants its students to be better distributed.
Roosevelt is in a diverse, low-to-moderate income neighborhood. The Crossings is a still-developing, largely upscale neighborhood.
“Remember, Roosevelt serves the middle-class, the backbone of our neighborhood and community,” said Sadie May, who has lived near Roosevelt for about 50 years and has had four children and two grandchildren go there.
Like May, many who live near the school and do not have young children also have spoken against its closing, saying the school is part of the neighborhood’s identity.
“Losing a school does a lot to affect the desirability of a neighborhood,” said Anna Buss, a real estate agent and landlord who lives near Roosevelt.
The board said it would keep the school building and possibly use it as preschool or office space.
The board’s decision also affects the boundaries at Horn, Kirkwood and Weber elementary schools.
The school board originally was to vote on the proposal in late-March, and then by mid-May. But the decision kept getting pushed back. There have been several well-attended board meetings and public forums in which most people spoke against closing Roosevelt.
Board President Toni Cilek acknowledged how difficult the issue has been.
“I’ve been on the board seven years, and this is clearly the hardest decision,” she said.
Plugge has noted that closing Roosevelt and building a school at the Crossings got the most votes from a 15-member committee that discussed the issue. But there was greater combined support for two proposals that included an elementary school being at the Roosevelt site.