Horace Mann district debates plans for renovation

Horace Mann Elementary. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Neighbors, school board members, teachers and administrators met at Horace Mann Elementary in Iowa City last week to compare plans for a proposed update of the 100-year-old facility to meet ADA accessibility standards, add parking and playground space and improve students’ educational experience.

Why renovate Horace Mann?

“I think it’s really important that we become ADA compliant, that’s one of my huge things,” Horace Mann Principal Julie Robinson said. “And I think it’s really important that kids at Mann have an equitable educational experience to kids around the district.”

Examples of a lack of equity that the renovation would change include expanding the library, computer lab and playground, Robinson said. An elevator would make the building fully wheelchair accessible; the school would become fully air conditioned, energy efficient windows and lights would be installed and a more secure administrative office could be built, Iowa City school board member Brian Kirschling said. The main entrance, gym, roof, floors, paint, shelves and cabinets, windows and electrical and plumbing systems would also be replaced.

Mann students would spend a year at the new Hoover Elementary during construction, which would be completed by the fall of 2019. Similar renovations begin next month at Longfellow Elementary, which is also 100 years old. Those students will also spend a year at Hoover while work is completed.

“We can sort of watch what happens and see what went well with them and what we’ll need to tweak, so I think we’re kind of at an advantage going second,” Robinson said.

The projected cost of Mann’s renovations is $10,325,000, though exact numbers for the specific plans are unclear, Superintendent Stephen Murley said. The funds would come from the district’s proposed general obligation bond, which voters will approve or deny in September.

North Market Square Park contributes additional play space adjacent to the school. — photo by Eleanore Taft

City council and school board hone in on a plan

The school board and city council examined proposed options A through G at a joint work session, before arriving at alternative options H1 and H2. A group of community members submitted the additional option Z at last week’s school board meeting.

Some plans included removal of three houses on the south side of Fairchild that are part of the Goosetown/Horace Mann conservation district to make way for parking. The currently favored plans H1, H2 and Z leave those buildings intact. A red brick house on Fairchild Street on the national historic registry will also be preserved but the duplex west of it will likely be removed.

The red house on the right will be preserved, but the blue duplex probably won’t according to the proposed plans. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Maps of all proposals were provided at the meeting along with input forms. A portion of the presentation, led by Murley, was reserved for public comment and questions.

“The competing forces were location and scale of on-site parking versus location and size of outdoor playscape area, including playgrounds, and to some extent also the size of the addition itself,” school board member Chris Liebig said. “It was a listening post so I would like to see the feedback sheets before I stake out any position.”

Stakeholders disagree on location and quantity of parking spaces

The impact of parking and drop-off locations was discussed at length, including considerations of aesthetics, proximity and safety. District boundaries will soon stretch as far east as 1st Avenue near Regina High School and could lead to more parents driving their kids. The school currently has 21 parking spots with two ADA accessible, and plans H1 and H2 would add either 37 or 49 spots with three ADA accessible, Kirschling said.

Mann principal Julie Robinson favors option H1 or H2 because a large parking lot near the front door means teachers don’t have as far to carry heavy loads of supplies. She also said this would make the school more accessible for parents.

Community members’ input on plan options H2 and Z. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Lisa Collier, a parent of Mann graduates who lives on Church Street, prefers option Z. She said it is more respectful of neighbors on Fairchild because it doesn’t place a drop-off location right next to their house, and putting a building adjacent to Church Street rather than a parking lot is more aesthetically pleasing.

“Urban schools never have enough parking,” Friends of Historic Preservation Executive Director Alicia Trimble said. “We’re used to coming at it from kind of an Iowa perspective, we have a little more land in a lot of places.”

Matthieu Biger, a Mann parent and at-large board member of the Northside Neighborhood Association, supports a tweaked version of option Z. He said he would like to see the plan incorporate expert projections for the next 100 years’ growth. He said he would also support option H2 if the extension were moved north, combined with designated school parking zones on neighborhood streets to account for a reduction in parking spaces.

Community members share their thoughts with members of the school board at Horace Mann Elementary Tuesday, May 2 2017. — photo by Eleanore Taft

Those who were unable to attend the meeting can fill out a form here to provide input on the plans. Input forms from Tuesday’s meeting can be viewed here. Scroll down through the filled-out input forms to view marked-up proposals for options H1, H2 and Z.

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