Central grad uses school location as master's project

CHAMPAIGN — When Central High School alumna Holly Nelson read about the Champaign school district looking for a new location for Central High School, she took notice.

Nelson, who's working toward her master's degree in urban planning at the University of Illinois, wanted to make sure many factors were considered in the decision.

So she decided to use the topic as her master's capstone project — to study possible sites for a new high school, and how a new site could affect things like transportation and social interactions, the environment and costs to the school district.

"Since I had to do a project anyway, I thought I might as well volunteer my time for something like this," Nelson said.

She's done with her studies on transportation, including possible costs, and the social implications, and she'll present those Monday at Champaign's school board meeting. She hopes to present the rest to the school board in June.

The board is exploring topics related to secondary education and a new high school at its second meeting of the month.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.

New school board member Ileana Saveley will also be sworn in at tonight's meeting.

Nelson said she has some opinions about the sites, and is generating more as she completes her project.

"The goal is not to give a recommendation, but to provide lists of pros and cons for all the sites so that people can use those to have a better discussion," Nelson said. "I'm hoping to put those together into a little booklet that can be reproduced widely."

Possible locations on the school district's list still include locations in the Garwood neighborhood of central Champaign, a site in the Boulder Ridge subdivision in northwest Champaign, sites on Olympian Drive at Market Street, Neil Street or Prospect Avenue, sites at First Street and either Windsor or Curtis roads, a property at Cardinal and Duncan Roads, a property on Kirby Avenue east of Interstate 57 and west of Centennial High School and the Country Fair shopping center on Mattis Avenue.

Wiegand said the school board Monday will discuss whether to keep the Garwood site on the list.

"There are some that believe that the site would not be sufficient for the high school," Wiegand said, but that's a decision for the board to make.

To look at social impacts of various high school sites, Nelson conducted about 30 interviews with community members about the various sites. They're anonymous, but Nelson said she sought a variety of perspectives.

"I've tried to pull from as wide of a spectrum as I can, from parents to teachers or staff at the schools to local officials and other community leaders," Nelson said.

She also created "walkingshed maps," which show the areas within a 10- and 20-minute walk from the proposed sites, and lists of the churches, parks, grocery stores, banks and other amenities within a mile of the locations.

These can give an idea of places students and their families might be able to go on their way to or from school, or that staff members might use.

She also breaks down population density, race and ethnicity in the areas near the proposed sites using census data.

She has posted some of her work to http://centralrelocationstudy.wordpress.com.

Nelson said the study has been a large undertaking.

"It's turning out to be an enormous project, but I'm really enjoying it," Nelson said.

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