The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday ended an effort in Iowa City to save an elementary school, saying that even though a vote has already begun on a proposal to preserve the school, the district has a right to demolish the building.
The decision comes in a lawsuit filed by patrons of the Iowa City Community School District in 2017, after the school board refused to place a measure asking voters whether to approve demolition of Hoover Elementary School on a special election ballot. The school was dedicated in 1954 by former President Herbert Hoover, an Iowa native.
The state Supreme Court decision reversed a lower court's ruling requiring the vote be held.
Patrons sought to place the question of saving Hoover Elementary on the September 2017 ballot, along with a request by the school board for a $191 million bond issue to finance a plan that included razing Hoover Elementary and constructing a new building that would become part of Iowa City High School. A lower court judge noted that the plaintiffs seeking to save the school had collected more than 2,000 verified signatures and had filed the petition with the board on time. The judge ruled the question should have been put to a vote and ordered it to appear on the next general election ballot.
But the high court's ruling found that while state law was expanded in 2008 to say school patrons could petition to seek a vote on the sale, lease or other disposition of school property — including demolition — the law was amended the following year to remove "demolition" from that list. Therefore, the school board was under no legal obligation to have the issue of demolishing Hoover Elementary on the ballot, the Supreme Court said.
The high court's decision comes amid the election, as early voting on the measure opened two weeks ago. Johnson County election officials issued a statement Friday saying it's too late to remove the issue from the Nov. 5 ballots, which have already been printed. The county instead is instructing voters to skip the question on the ballot and said any votes already cast on the issue will not be tabulated or released. Votes cast in other races and issues will be counted.
Gregg Geerdes, an Iowa City attorney representing the petitioners, was not immediately available to comment on Friday's ruling.
Attorneys for the school district did not immediately return phone messages Friday seeking comment.