Some residents don't want to see Dr. Howard School demolished
CHAMPAIGN – Climb up and down a few levels of stairs and head back to the far corner of the basement in Dr. Howard Elementary School and you'll find the reading recovery classrooms.
The enrichment courses are taught in a second-floor hallway.
The building's only conference room can't be used for confidential discussions because it was built in the corner of the art room, and the walls don't reach all the way to the ceiling, meaning there isn't any privacy. But it is good for storing laptop computers, which can't be used as fully as teachers would like because the school needs technology upgrades.
Principal Frances Burley gave parents, neighborhood residents and school board members a tour of the school, before a school board meeting there Monday evening, to discuss how the district should address its building needs in the wake of the failed ballot proposal in March.
The bond proposal included money to demolish Dr. Howard and build a new elementary school on the site. But many living near the school say they want at least a portion of it preserved. And they objected to the school being used as the "poster child" for the district's building needs.
"What that really did was show the school district how poorly you maintain buildings," Kristine Chalifoux said.
She said the school's gutters are clogged, and there are other maintenance needs obvious to residents that are being ignored.
Chalifoux and many other neighborhood residents want to preserve the school. They said they didn't want "little Wal-Marts" or a "McSchool" with no character, but something that will fit into the area.
"It will not enrich my life to have an ugly building down here I have no fondness for," said neighborhood resident Susan Searing, who said she reluctantly voted for the ballot proposal, but really wants to see the building maintained and improved technologically, rather than demolished for a new school.
"I believe children can be served, the neighborhood can be served, and this building can be beautiful and functional," Searing said.
Kristin Hoganson lives across the street from Dr. Howard, and she loves her neighborhood's diversity and charm. She also would like to see at least part of the original school building, dating to 1910, saved.
But she also wants the school to be safe and functional for students.
"One thing I learned from the referendum process was how woefully inadequate Dr. Howard is compared to other schools," she said. "It seems like all the children at Dr. Howard are being shortchanged. They are not getting an equal education along with the others in the district."
But one other resident said the district shouldn't try to make all its schools alike, but rather serve the needs of each individually and honor the district's schools of choice program.
School board member Nathaniel Banks agreed the district needs to consider the needs of each school and neighborhood.
School board members say they won't try for another ballot proposal until next spring.
In the meantime, they'll continue to meet at different schools in the district and gather information from the public.