Unit 4 school plan met cautiously

CHAMPAIGN – Dori Walker's three Dr. Howard students will have moved on by the time a new school would be built there, but Walker is glad to hear the plans for the school.

"Dr. Howard is so old and so cramped," said Walker of Wednesday's facilities committee decision to put the school on its $68 million priority list. The list calls for the construction of three schools: one at the Dr. Howard site, one on the north side of the city and one in Savoy.

"A lot of people in our neighborhood are attached to the building for its historical significance, but as far as being a facility with an excellent teaching atmosphere, Dr. Howard's not it," she said. "The teachers work so hard. They deserve a better building."

The list approved by the committee keeps the first phase of plans – to correct deficiencies in Champaign schools – in a cost range recommended by bond underwriters and administrators, even though working groups initially came up with more ambitious lists with price tags up to $150 million.

"There were parts of the overall recommendation I wouldn't have chosen," said Michael Roux, who represented Bottenfield school in the committee. "But I think that applied to everyone in the room. I think it's wise to start small and focus on one level. Our mandate was to put more space north of University and to put schools in growing population centers. We tried to have vision toward where populations will be in the future."

In addition to major work and putting in air conditioning at the elementary schools that don't have it, the proposal calls for downsizing enrollment by one strand at three schools – Bottenfield, Westview and Robeson – a move that would create a population to fill one of the new schools.

However, architect Sam Johnson of BLDD Architects said that's a decision best made by school board members. He said downsizing population at those schools would create more space for teachers.

"Many schools need teacher work rooms as well as space for work with vision, speech and hearing impaired children," Johnson said. "They need space for teachers, conference rooms, work rooms, guidance. Look at schools like Washington. They have copiers in the corridors."

Bond underwriters Stifel Nicolaus recommended putting high school and middle school work in a second phase to be subject to a second, future referendum for $100.5 million, bumping up the price of the whole package to about $170 million.

Several working group members said they put the $1 million cost of the purchase of land for the high school site in the first phase and included $2.5 million for construction of playing fields on that land to keep a new high school in the public eye and create momentum for the second-phase referendum.

Work in that phase would include:

– Renovation of Jefferson and Franklin middle schools, including gym additions, $5.9 million.

– Remodeling Central High School to move Edison Middle School and an alternative high school into the building, $7.8 million.

– Building a new high school, about $70 million.

– Renovating Centennial to equal facilities at the new Central, $11.4 million.

The options assembled by architects and administrators don't specify what would happen to the Edison structure, but members of at least one working group favored moving administrators, the Family Information Center and other district offices into Edison and selling property, especially the campus-area former Marquette School that houses the family information center, to help defray costs.

Savoy village manager Dick Helton said he's cautiously optimistic about the committee's first-phase package, including the long-awaited Savoy school, which would be built on donated ground.

"This now goes to the school board, and they have the final say," Helton said. "They can add and/or take away. After those decisions, we'll have a lot of work ahead to promote the referendum."

Helton said Savoy's population has been growing about 20 percent a year, and he estimates it will reach 10,000 in 10 years.

"I feel like we served the needs of the community," said Chuck Dunnum, an Edison parent. "You have to meet needs of both the north and the south sides of the community and look at the overall picture, benefiting all the children."

More recommended upgrades for Champaign schools

In addition to building three new schools and putting air conditioning in elementary schools that don't now have it, upgrades called for in Champaign school district facilities committee recommendations include:

– Building an addition with a gymnasium to Bottenfield School, expanding support and library space and removing mobile classrooms there, $1.9 million.

– Building an addition with a gym and classrooms and expanding support and library space at Carrie Busey, $2.4 million.

– Building an addition with a gym, expanded support space and parking at Garden Hills, $2.2 million.

– Building an addition with a gym and expanding support space and parking at Kenwood, $2.5 million.

– Expanding support space and library space at Robeson, $1.2 million.

– Building additions with a gymnasium and four new classrooms, a new west entry, expanding library and support space and remodeling the elevator and rest rooms at South Side, $3.2 million.

– Building an addition with classrooms, expanding support and library space and removing mobile classrooms at Washington School, $3 million.

– Building an addition with a gym and elevator, expanding support and library space at Westview, $2.4 million.

– Spending $1 million at Central to enlarge the fine arts and music space there.

– Making $3.1 million worth of security upgrades districtwide.

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