Iowa Supreme Court strikes down Iowa City ballot measure on demolition of old Hoover Elementary building

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Elizabeth Tate High School, formerly Hoover Elementary, at 2200 E Court St, Iowa City, is under threat of demolition. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

The Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling on Friday morning invalidating a ballot measure Iowa Citians are already voting on.

Public measure LY, which the court struck down, asked voters to decide if the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) should be permitted to “demolish the building known as Hoover Elementary School, located at 2200 East Court Street in Iowa City, after the completion of the 2018-19 school year, with the proceeds of any resulting salvage to be applied as specified in Iowa Code.”

The demolition of the original Hoover building (currently serving as the location for Elizabeth Tate High School; a new Herbert Hoover Elementary was built at 1355 Barrington Rd in Iowa City, and opened in 2017) is part of the updated 10-year Facilities Master Plan approved by the school board in April 2015. A group of citizens opposed to closing Hoover petitioned the school board in June 2017, asking it to include a ballot measure in that year’s November election — the same election in which voters were being asked to approve the $191.5 million bond issue to fund the plan.

After reviewing the petition, the school board’s legal counsel concluded it wasn’t “authorized by law.” As Justice Brent Appel noted in Friday’s opinion, only “a ‘sale, lease, or other disposition’ of a schoolhouse [is] subject to submission to the voters” according to state law.

The school board acted in accordance with its counsel’s opinion, and didn’t put the Hoover measure on the ballot. Three Hoover supporters — Heather Young, Del Holland and Blake Hendrickson — sued the school board, seeking to force it to put the measure on the November 2017 ballot.

A district court judged declined to issue a summary judgment putting the Hoover measure on the 2017 ballot, but eventually ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor. That decision led to the measure being included on the ballot this year.

“Everyone’s always talking about how there’s too much busing, and busing is expensive,” Young told KWWL earlier this month. “So, why are we closing the only school in town that every single student walks to?”

The Iowa Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling that demolition was covered under the general term “other disposition” of a school building, so the public could vote directly on it. Justice Appel said that legal precedent required a more narrow definition of “other disposition,” and demolishing a school building didn’t fit it. Therefore, the fate of Hoover can’t be put to a public vote.

But the ballots for next month’s election have already been printed, with Public Measure LY on them.

After the court issued it decision, the Johnson County Auditor’s Office issued a statement.

Voting has been underway for two weeks and the election is only 17 days away. There is not time to re-program and re-print ballots. Ballots will be distributed as already printed, but voters should skip this public measure. Any votes already cast will not be tabulated or released.

In-person early voting in the general election will continue at the Auditor’s Office — 913 S Dubuque St in Iowa City — Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, through Monday, Nov. 4. Requests for a mail-in ballot must be received by the Auditor’s Office before 5 p.m. On Oct. 25.

Polls will open at 7 a.m. On Tuesday, Nov. 5 for the general election. The Auditor’s Office has an online location look-up tool for voters unsure of their polling place.

The new Herbert Hoover Elementary School, 1355 Barrington Rd in Iowa City, opened in 2017. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

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