Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Public's Rights to Public Schools and Land

October 25, 2011, 8:50 a.m.

The Heavy Price of Profit Maximization

The ICCSD School Board and Superintendent have indicated in a variety of ways their inclination to demolish Iowa City's 80-year-old landmark, Roosevelt Elementary School, and sell off the land to the highest bidder, regardless of the winner's proposed use, adverse impact on the neighborhood, and loss of the benefits from this irreplaceable asset for the residents of Iowa City.

It's pretty much a done deal. But it's still worth getting your oar in this polluted water, so I'm going to ask you a favor. A meeting of the Iowa City Community School Board Facility Committee is being held this afternoon in the Central Administration Office, 509 South Dubuque Street (just south of the Post Office), at 4:00 p.m. If you're free, please attend. I'm teaching a class this afternoon until after 5:00, so I can't go. (Unfortunately, meetings on some of the most important Board matters tend to be held when most citizens can't attend.)

The point I'd like to register is that those making these decisions have a responsibility that goes beyond a "marketplace profit maximization" approach. Even if they personally owned this land, one would hope when disposing of it they'd give some weight to the Iowa City community's interests.

But they don't own it. The people do; this is public land. Taxpayers paid for it; stakeholders benefit from it. The Board members have no more moral right to exercise their whim in this matter than would a similar number of developers.

And what it looks like we're going to end up with is a cabal of both.

There are few remaining plots of land of this size and beauty, both west of the river and close to town. This is truly irreplaceable public land. And it should remain as such.

It need not remain a school. It need not be "owned" by the school district. There are many possible options for its maximum contribution to the community. A few of them have been spelled out in this morning's Press-Citizen by Lori Enloe, whose column is reproduced below.

If the Board wants to profit-maximize, it might want to consider a hog confinement, a smokestack industry, or using the beautiful nature trail through the ravine as a nuclear waste dump -- any one of which would benefit from easy access to the railroad, and would undoubtedly bring top dollar.

No; profit maximization, which sometimes works well in the for-profit, commercial sector of society, is inappropriate in this instance. This is not the Board members' land. It is the people's land. It has been for over 80 years. The Board has no need to curry favor with local developers. And this particular piece of property is not a "must have" for developers anyway. They're doing fine.

Now read Ms. Enloe's op ed column, and join with me in this eleventh hour effort to bring common sense and human decency to the Board's management of our land.

Consider Better Options for Roosevelt's School Building
Lori Enloe
Iowa City Press-Citizen
October 25, 2011, p. 7A

Imagine a place close to downtown Iowa City where the community can:

Gather for meetings and performances in a renovated historic building.

Participate in a community garden.

Play soccer and cricket.

Produce art and take classes for all ages.

The closing of Roosevelt Elementary has created this possibility.

In June 2009, the Iowa City Community School Board voted to close Roosevelt and repurpose the building. A repurposing committee (as a district administrative committee) met from October 2010 to February with the charge of making recommendations for viable solutions for repurposing Roosevelt.

Their ideas were placed in four categories:

Repurpose the property.

Sell to another public entity or nonprofit organization.

Sell to a private entity with stipulations.

Sell to a private entity with no stipulations.

After some consideration of the committee’s recommendations, Superintendent Steve Murley met with the Miller-Orchard neighborhood to discuss his findings and the neighborhood’s concerns Sept. 20. He suggested that he will recommend that the School Board sell the Roosevelt school property.

I encourage the School Board either to repurpose Roosevelt or to sell it to someone who will repurpose the building and property for the local neighborhood and community.

The School Board has a great opportunity to be visionary when it makes a decision about the Roosevelt property when the elementary closes next year. Roosevelt sits very close to the new Iowa City Riverfront Crossing Development and is close to the University of Iowa — making it a great location for creating space that would fit the diverse needs of all of Iowa City and the immediate neighborhood.

The board should consider the gathering spaces that individuals and groups have created in Iowa City and Johnson County — such as Uptown Bills Coffee Shop, Backyard Abundance, Taproot Nature Experience, New Pioneer Co-op Earth Source gardens, Summer of the Arts, community pianos and many other examples — that are important for the sustainability and livability of our community.

Let’s find a way to revitalize and to repurpose the Roosevelt property for our community. It could be a place for a magnet school, early childhood education or a combination of educational programs. Although not revenue neutral, these options could make use of innovative public/private collaboration to offset the cost of the project.

Alternatively, the district could carefully select a buyer who will create a multiuse nonprofit or for-profit community space that could include edible community gardens, a gym, art studios, performance studio and evening classes.

The possibilities are great if the school board invites proposals and provides a long enough time frame for an individual or group to create a proposal for this space and raise the money to purchase it.

Come and listen to the School Board and superintendent as they talk about Roosevelt at their Work Session and Facility Committee meeting at 4 p.m. today in the Central Administration Office, 509 S. Dubuque St.
Lori Enloe is past president of Roosevelt Parent Teacher Organization and parent of two children in the Iowa City Community School District.

To remove any possible suspicion, or curiosity, as to my direct, personal interest in this issue, (a) I did not attend Roosevelt Elementary (I went through the University's experimental schools, the University Elementary and High School ("U-Hi")), and (b) I neither live, nor own property, in the immediate neighborhood of Roosevelt; it is across the tracks and at the opposite end of Greenwood from me.

# # #

1 comment:

Dan Clark said...

Our social pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of deferring to folks who want to run public trusts "like a business"!