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.


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.

Bicycle statistics for Iowa City area

July 7, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Curious how various intersections in Iowa City, Coralville and University Heights rank in terms of bicycle usage?

A memo released Tuesday by the Johnson County Council of Governments – a countywide planning organization more commonly referred to by its acronym, JCCOG – provides an interesting angle on this.

Using traffic counts, it ranks 20 intersections by the percentage of bicycle usage compared with total vehicle usage.

Not surprisingly, intersections near University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and other parts of the UI campus occupy many of the top spots.

The full memo is at the bottom of this post. Unless I’m missing something, the math on the top intersection isn’t right, but the rest appear to be correct. Let me know if you find any errors. Also, the memo suggests only certain intersections were observed.

JCCOG is leading the effort to get area communities designated Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists, which I’ve written about before.

A JCCOG board is to discuss its “Metro Bicycle Master Plan” at a meeting July 14.  

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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.

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Cities expect to discuss franchise fees

June 25, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Some Iowa City Council members have referred to it as a “little gift” from the state.

They’re talking about the new state law that allows cities to impose franchise fees of up to 5 percent on natural gas and electric service.

While it’s doubtful many utility customers will speak of it as warmly, the appeal to city officials is that the fees are a potential new revenue source other than property taxes, upon which city budgets are heavily reliant.

How common the fees will be is not yet know.

The Iowa City Council will discuss it further at a work session Monday. Officials in Cedar Rapids, Coralville, Marion and North Liberty said they had not yet talked about the fees. Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley said city staff have discussed it but no plan has been developed.

But the fees likely will be brought up when  cities begin preparing their budgets later this year.

“Certainly that (franchise fees) is something we are going to be looking at as we do our future financial planning for next year’s budget, but right now” the city has no plans on imposing them, Cedar Rapids City Manager Jim Prosser said.

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Realtor declares for IC Council

June 1, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — A real estate agent who is a big supporter of historic preservation announced on Monday his candidacy for a seat on the City Council.

Mark McCallum, 48, of 932 E. College St., is running for the District B seat currently held by Connie Champion. Champion, who has served on the council since 1998, said Monday she was undecided whether she would seek re-election.

McCallum said he wants to offer bonuses to developers to encourage diverse housing options downtown and in multifamily zones, delay the property tax recalculation for exterior improvements approved by the Historic Preservation Commission and waive fees required for siding and window replacements in historic and conservation districts.

“I think I can add something to the local debate about how Iowa City develops,” he said. “And if you look at my history, I’ve been involved with some creative projects around town and I look at things a little bit differently.”

McCallum is the original developer of the Brown Street Inn bed and breakfast and also owned and operated Brick House Apartments on College Street. He’s also known for having tried to save a 125-year-old house being used as a law office near downtown from demolition before the April 2006 tornado destroyed the building.

His current project involves converting a former sorority house to studio apartments.

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