ICCSD closes doors to Roosevelt center

The Iowa City Community School District announced the Theodore Roosevelt Education Center will close at the end of the academic year.


Michael Guhin

The sign for Theodore Roosevelt Education Center is photographed on Tuesday, November 27th, 2018.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

Parents and other community members are confused and seeking explanations after they received an announcement that the Roosevelt Education Center’s doors will close at the end of the academic year, forcing the center’s programs to be relocated.

Nearly eight years ago, the Iowa City School District faced an issue of having isolated outreach programs lacking in structure and support. To consolidate these programs, the district housed them at the former Roosevelt Elementary.

“The worst thing we can do is wait for the building to fail,” Superintendent Steve Murley said. “It’s one catastrophic event away from us having to close the doors and lock it.”

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He said the building was in decay when the center and Homeschool Assistance programs moved in. Since then, the boiler has given out, and the water quality was recently deemed inadequate. Murley said he worries about the loss of heat and the effect on the health of students.

“We started about two years ago saying we should plan not to be here and find a home for all of these programs,” Murley said. “With a third high school opening up, we have a little space in our secondary schools.”

Murley said one of the primary reason kids attend the center is because of school-related phobias, such as an overwhelming move from a small town to a larger class and mental-health issues.

“For those kids moving back into City, West, or Liberty High Schools, they’ll now have connections to guidance counselors and resources they don’t have at [Roosevelt],” Murley said. “Ideally, we’d like to have them going to school with their peers.”

Until then, he said, the School District will build extra classrooms specifically for Roosevelt programs, so students can reintegrate into their schools in a way that would be difficult from Roosevelt.

Murley said he communicated with the Roosevelt staff before announcing its closure, but not so much with parents and their students.

“Many of the families’ main concerns is that we don’t know if we’ll have a building,” Iowa City Homeschool Assistance parent Cara Mickelsen said. “For the most part, we don’t want to go back to being in a small trailer like we were before.”

Mickelsen said Homeschool Assistance and other programs under Roosevelt’s roof seem to work, and it was frustrating to learn about the closing in an email after what seemed like a hopeful speech to parents by Murley in September.

“I would like to see the Roosevelt school repaired and continually used,” Mickelsen said. “Alternatively, I’d like to see another location found that’s as good as what we have now. We need a space that’s separate from a mainstream public school.”

She also expressed concern about the Roosevelt Ravine, a historical park on the same lot as the Roosevelt building that’s used by the School District for field trips and outdoor space.

School Board member Phil Hemingway seconded this concern, and he said it has a real benefit in providing a district-wide oasis to distract students from technology.

“There’s so many possibilities with that location,” he said. “Obviously, something is working right now. We need to review and have discussions.”

For example, he said, if Murley is concerned about the boiler, then there should be open discussion about how much it would cost to possibly replace it.

He did agree with Murley’s tentative plans to potentially turn the Roosevelt building into a magnet school but only after extensive renovations.

“I’m not ready throw in the towel on this one,” Hemingway said. “That property has a lot to offer.”