New site

July 26, 2009

As part of the launch of The Gazette’s redesigned Web site, this blog has moved to http://gazetteonline.com/blogs/johnson-county-news/. Future posts will appear on the new site, so please bookmark it.


Johnson County supervisor: Could we sue consultant?

July 1, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

Iowa City – Rod Sullivan was not happy during a discussion of jail and court needs Wednesday.

The Johnson County supervisor didn’t like that, after several years of planning for a combined justice center, some were suggesting  looking at a split jail and courthouse.

And he wasn’t happy with the consultant the board hired two years ago to study its options. In fact, he wondered outloud if the county could sue the firm, Dubuque-based Durrant Group Inc.

“We did not get our money’s worth out of this,” he said.

(A story about the meeting can be found here and in Thursday’s Gazette.)

Durrant was paid about $70,000 and, after more than a year of work, came up with four possible locations for a combined justice center.

But other county officials, including County Attorney Janet Lyness, said Wednesday that the Durrant study did not lay out what it would cost to renovate the courthouse and build a jail at a separate site.

That’s a scenario that is now being considered with the Press-Citizen building, and the county may need to pay for another study.

Wednesday was not the first time supervisors had expressed frustration with Durrant. In April 2008, Durrant’s Michael Lewis unveiled for the supervisors his preliminary assessment of possible sites for a facility.

But some supervisors said at the time that they expected more detailed information, particularly cost estimates. Also, Lewis’ final report was late.

Some of that frustration came out when Lewis asked the supervisors to narrow the list of sites to two or three.

“I don’t feel that we can answer your question because I don’t feel like you’ve done what we asked you to do,” said Sullivan, who was the board’s chairman at the time.

Lewis eventually came back with more detailed plans, and county officials later that year zeroed in on a site south of the existing courthouse as their preferred location for a justic center.

They liked that it was close to downtown and had easy access to public transportation and nearby facilities.


Nine words, 1,000 years

June 29, 2009

The nine-word story that will take you 1,000 years to read: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/06/the-long-nine-words.html?yrail


Broad support for changing Iowa City school boundaries, multiple reasons why

June 27, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

(This is an expanded version of the story that is in Saturday’s Gazette. The bottom third, in particular, has information only found here.)

IOWA CITY — At a meeting earlier this year, Iowa City school board member Gayle Klouda joked about when the best time to redraw school boundaries across the district would be.

When school board members aren’t seeking re-election and the superintendent is retiring, she said.

Yet comprehensive boundary changes are exactly what a growing chorus of people wants, from Klouda and other board members to administrators and parents. And no one is expecting it to be painless.

“Tongue in cheek, there is a humorous side to all that,” Klouda said in an interview. “But it’s also true that people are not going to be all of one mind with respect to where those boundaries ought to be put.”

Redistricting, as it is often called, has not occurred in Iowa City in nearly two decades. But it has been the underlying theme to a number of recent issues confronting the district. This includes high school enrollment, the call by some for a third high school, the concentration of low-income students in certain schools and the upcoming closure of Roosevelt Elementary.

“I think the board has heard the issue, and I think we are as close as any board has been since I have been on the board (starting in 2002) to addressing these tough issues,” board President Toni Cilek said of redistricting, adding  that the board is not scared politically to tackle the subject.

Superintendent Lane Plugge said he is not yet preparing a boundary recommendation but has started preliminary work by meeting with demographers from the University of Iowa to see how they can help in adjusting boundaries.

Read the rest of this entry »


Should Coralville Lake be dredged?

June 12, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — Even as water went over Coralville Lake’s emergency spillway last summer, what remained under the lake’s surface also was on the mind of many flood victims.

Years of sedimentation buildup have reduced the lake’s capacity by 14 percent. The thinking was, if that material was removed through a process known as dredging, there’d be more room for water in the man-made reservoir, which was built a half-century ago to control flooding.

“There was a lot of talk of dredging the lake in the wake of the flood last year,” said Jerry Anthony, who lived in Iowa City’s flood-ravaged Parkview Terrace neighborhood.

But officials with the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake, and a University of Iowa expert say dredging the lake would have had a negligible effect.

The UI’s renowned fluids research and engineering laboratory, IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, ran a simulation with the corps’ operations model and found that dredging the lake would not have lessened the severity of last year’s flood.

“The sedimentation that has accumulated in the reservoir has very minimal, almost not-measurable effect on the total peak discharge that was released during the flood of last year,” said Larry Weber, director of IIHR.

The reason for that, he said, is that the majority of the sediment is below the conservation pool, which is the target elevation for the reservoir at different times of the year. The corps’ strict guidelines call for the lake to be at 679 feet above sea level in the early spring and 683 feet just before Memorial Day. The lake hit a record 717 feet last June.

So even if the lake is dredged, the water would still typically be at 683 feet, rising from there in the event of flooding.

“Anything below 683 doesn’t matter because the water is always going to be at that elevation,” said John Castle, lake operations manager.

Read the rest of this entry »


SE Iowa City violence

May 22, 2009

The Gazette’s Diane Heldt liveblogged the neighborhood meeting last night on the recent problems on the southeast side of Iowa City.

Things got a little heated — one man was escorted out by police — but area residents also were able to share their concerns. Diane’s story and the blog can be read here.