A Few Steps Closer to Liberty

In the midst of a growing student population, the school board seeks to manage its numbers through the implementation of a third comprehensive high school.


Max Gruber

Liberty High School is in Phase I of the construction plan, which is set for completion in 2017.

Ever since student enrollment in the Iowa City Community School District began to increase, the issue of overcrowding has moved to the forefront of discussion in school board meetings. In order to accommodate the district’s ever-expanding numbers, the School Board is looking to the construction of a new high school, Liberty High, as a solution.

“It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for all of our high school students and the community, and I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the benefits,” School Board President Chris Lynch said. “I’m optimistic [about Liberty].”

Liberty High School, located in eastern North Liberty, will be constructed in a three-phase plan. Phase I of the plan is set for completion in 2017 and will include the main classrooms and infrastructure, serving 1,000 students. Phase II, set to be completed in 2019, will include the athletics complex and extracurricular facilities. The third and final phase will be completed in 2022 and will provide 20 additional classrooms for the integration of 500 additional students, bringing Liberty’s total enrollment to 1500.

The City of North Liberty and the ICCSD have partnered with SVPA Architects Inc. to create the master design of the school. Inspired by elements of contemporary architecture, Liberty will feature a 800-seat auditorium and a 2000-seat competition gym. A spacious central commons area, surrounded by the academic and athletic departments, will also be a key aspect of the design.

“The central commons space is going to be very unique,” President of SVPA Architects Vitus Bering said. “It’s going to have great daylight and views, and it’s going to be a signature feature of the building.”

SVPA Architects has also worked to incorporate modern safety technology in the construction of Liberty; the building of an additional auxiliary gym will feature storm safety structures, designed to withstand wind speeds of over 160 miles per hour.

“It’s going to be really beneficial for the students to have access to a modern, 21st- century school environment,” Bering said.

The implementation of Liberty will cause enrollment to decrease for both of the ICCSD’s comprehensive high schools, City High and West High. Numbers are projected to lower to 1500 students per school, which will contribute to the overcrowding solution, but will also cause the schools to lose some of the benefits of a larger institution. Nevertheless, City High principal John Bacon is generally positive about the new high school.

“There are some competitive advantages and opportunities from [being a bigger school], but having three high schools each with 1500 students is going to be very nice,” Bacon said. “It is large enough to provide all of the programming options that you see at a large, comprehensive, 4A high school in Iowa, but not so large that accessing activities is difficult and intimacy is lost.”

Superintendent Stephen Murley is also looking forward to increased opportunities for students.

“I think the greatest benefit [of building Liberty] will be for the high school students, who will be able to attend schools that are less crowded, providing more opportunities for extracurricular participation,” Murley said.

Murley predicts that Liberty will not only provide tremendous benefits for students, but for the Coralville and North Liberty communities as well.

“For the cities of Coralville and North Liberty, [Liberty High] will allow a progression from elementary through junior high school, and on to high school within city limits,” Murley said. “I presume that this will be very attractive to current and future residents, and may spur additional growth for both communities.”

Caleb Hansen, a sixth grader at Lincoln Elementary, is enthusiastic about Liberty and anticipates its opening.

“If I do decide to go to Liberty, I’ll be excited about being the first freshman class to start there. I’ll also be excited about things being new and clean,” Hansen said.

If I do decide to go to Liberty, I’ll be excited about being the first freshman class to start there. I’ll also be excited about things being new and clean.

— Caleb Hansen '23

As a result of the building of Liberty, a new redistricting arrangement will be necessary in order to supply its student body. The School Board will most likely assign families in the Alexander Elementary School attendance area to Liberty. Although Bacon acknowledges the challenges associated with redrawing school boundaries, he sides with the Board on its choice.

“I am a strong supporter of the process that [the board] went through and the decision they made about the issue of boundary lines,” Bacon said. “[Redistricting] is never easy to do, but I think it’s something that has to happen when we open a third high school.”

Despite the resulting boundary changes, Bacon believes that the futures of the community and Liberty High are promising.

“This is a very exciting time for the community. Undergoing a facility master plan to open a third comprehensive high school is a very significant moment,” Bacon said. “I think we can have three successful and balanced schools in terms of enrollment and socioeconomic makeup. The decisions that we make right now are going to shape the future of the school district for many years to come.”