- Save Our Stadiums opposes building a joint stadium on the Drake University campus for four of the district’s high schools
- An attempt was made to force a public referendum on the plan, but the district said SOS did not get the required number of signatures on its petition to hold the vote
- The group sued, challenged the county’s math and lost in county court
- On appeal, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with the district court and the school district
- The stadium is already under construction and an SOS lawyer says the challenge is over
The Iowa Supreme Court has dropped an attempt to call for a public referendum on the controversial construction of a joint Des Moines Public Schools athletics stadium on the Drake University campus.
The court ruled in a decision Friday that a district court was right in dismissing a lawsuit brought by Save Our Stadiums challenging the school system’s rejection of the group’s referendum motion. The district said the group failed to obtain the required minimum number of signatures.
The $19.5 million, 4,000-seat stadium is under construction east of Drake’s Knapp Center. The stadium will serve as the home stadium for four of Des Moines’ five high schools and will also host high school and Drake football games.
Save Our Stadiums argued that the shared stadium would harm the community spirit and fundraising for student-athletes at the four high schools — Hoover, Lincoln, North, and Roosevelt — who are giving up their home facilities or, in Roosevelt’s case, planning to close them to build. Under state law, district residents can force a referendum with a petition signed by residents who account for at least 30% of voters in the previous school board election.
The petition, filed at 4:30 p.m. on the due date in June 2020, had 7,120 signatures, almost 400 short of, by district count, the required threshold. The project went ahead.
July 2020:Des Moines Public Schools Approves Agreement with Drake to Build $19.5 Million Stadium
But Save Our Stadiums filed a lawsuit, saying the county’s calculations were wrong and accusing it of “total and utter disenfranchisement of the electorate.” It claimed that the petition would have required signatures equal to just 30% of the votes in the school board’s last uncontested campaign, which would have been 5,353. The district instead based its calculation on the number of voters in the district who cast ballots in previous elections, even if they left the school board race blank.
With three out of seven justices abstaining for reasons not stated in the decision, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the district.
“We agree with the district court and school district that the total number of voters should be counted in the election, not the votes cast in the general school board race,” Judge Thomas Waterman wrote.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs on one count: the district violated state law by not returning the denied petition to Save Our Schools. But like the district court, Waterman wrote that no remedy can be granted because even if the district had immediately returned the erroneous application, there would not have been time to find 400 more signatures and resubmit it.
Save Our Stadiums founder Dan Pardock on Friday referred questions to the group’s attorney, Gary Dickey.
“We are disappointed with the decision,” said Dickey. “It seems a very unnatural interpretation of the law.”
He said he hoped lawmakers would take action to clean up the language of the statute, but acknowledged it was the end of the stadium fight.
“The (state) Supreme Court has the final decision and we will of course accept it,” he said.
For subscribers:Metro Des Moines school districts are not immune to construction supply chain and inflation issues
County officials praised the verdict.
“We felt throughout that this was handled properly,” said Phil Roeder, spokesman for the Des Moines school. “The district court initially agreed, and it’s good that the federal district court confirmed that everything the school district has done is within the law when it comes to whether it’s a ballot or a referendum on the stadium.” should or should not give funding.”
The stadium is under construction. As originally agreed, Drake was to contribute $4.5 million while the district contributed $15 million, although rising inflation and multiple rounds of bidding increased the district’s share of the project by more than $1 million. Despite these costs and delays, however, those responsible are looking forward to the completion of the new stadium, said Roeder.
“We are excited to offer students a world-class facility that will likely be the best facility of its kind in the state of Iowa when it opens next year,” he said.
From March:On the third try, the Des Moines School Board approves the offer to share a stadium with Drake