Recommendations for Champaign schools include possible referendum

Recommendations for Champaign schools include possible referendum

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board will receive the first concrete recommendations for what to do with its aging buildings, including Central High School, at its Monday meeting.

Tracy Richter and Scott Leopold of educational facility planning firm DeJong-Richter will present a final report from the Future Facilities process at the board's meeting Monday. The board hired DeJong-Richter last fall to study what to do with its buildings.

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

Copies of their report and the two similar recommendations they'll present to the board are available here and here.

"We're going to review the results from the community dialogue and we're going to present the recommendations from the (Future Facilities) steering committee and (Superintendent Judy) Wiegand," said Leopold, associate director at DeJong-Richter.

The recommendations mentioned the same projects with different timelines for construction and suggest considering a referendum asking voters to approve higher property taxes for the projects.

Both recommendations include building a new Central High School, a new Dr. Howard Elementary, renovating and adding on to Centennial High School, renovating the current Central building to accommodate Edison Middle School and a "career preparedness high school program" and renovating and adding onto South Side Elementary.

The first recommends doing so by asking taxpayers in the November 2014 election to pay for these projects, which are estimated to cost $193 million. That would increase property taxes about $250 for each $100,000 of assessed value.

Then, the school district should study its enrollment through the construction project.

The school district could use a larger portion of the current Central building to make Edison bigger, and if middle school enrollment projections show enrollment rising to or staying above 2,400 students, the school district could ask for more money in a 2018 election to add on to Barkstall Elementary to make it a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, and to build a new K-8 school. Those projects would be expected to cost $45 million.

The second recommendation would have the school district ask for $139 million in 2014 to build a new Central and a new Dr. Howard, renovate Centennial and renovate and add on to South Side.

That would raise property taxes about $180 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Then, the school district could ask taxpayers in 2018 for an additional $54 million to renovate the Central building for Edison's use and to add onto Centennial.

That would raise property taxes about $70 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Or, it could ask for more if middle school enrollment projections show enrollment rising to or staying above 2,400 students, and the school district decides to build a new K-8 school or add onto Barkstall to make it one.

The recommendation also asks the school board to consider giving itself 90 days to find a site in the central part of Champaign for a new Central High School.

"There's no doubt that people would like to keep Central central," Leopold said. "We like the idea of putting out an all-points bulletin to landowners and developers (that we) need land within this geographical area."

The site would need to be 40 or more contiguous acres and wouldn't require the board to use eminent domain to buy residential property. The owner should be willing and able to sell the land to the school district.

Then, if such a site can't be found in 90 days, the school district should pursue sites it's discussed around the edges of town.

"The community favored sites to the north or northwest, but there was not a consensus favorite," the recommendation said.

The recommendation doesn't specify if Dr. Howard should be rebuilt where it is or at a new site.

The topic of renovating Champaign's middle schools came up during the Future Facilities process, and DeJong-Richter's report shows the community considered those a low priority. Those renovations, as well as that of the elementary school at Kirby Avenue or a replacement of that school, should be done as money from the school facilities sales tax becomes available.

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pattsi wrote on May 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Just want to share a publication that may be useful as people move forward on the school siting and configuration decisions. I have a publication titled, Planning Active Communities, edited by Marya Morris. This is a publication of the American Planning Association within the Planning Advisory Service. This is report #543/544, Available in the UIUC urban planning library now housed in the ACES Library

The chapter titled the ABC’s of Creating and Preserving Accessible Community Schools contains so much pertinent information, especially the section titled, Minimum acreage standards. Here is a useful quote from this section:

“In the1940′s, the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) first published guidelines suggesting minimum acreages fo school sites. According to CEFPI, rather than being based on any formula or rational, the guidelines were based on an informal survey of its membership at the time. It should be noted that CEFPI does not (and never has) set standards that schools must use…….Planners should be aware that a 2004 revision of CEFPI’s influential Guide for Planning Educational Facilities no longer contains minimum acreage for school sites.”

I posted that short quote with the hope that this might move everyone–citizens and Unit 4 administration–from quoting that “X” number of acres are need for “Y” type of school as if there is research data backing the statement. This is not the case. At a point in time I heard a parent question the acreage figures by stating what if we lived in NYC. Clearly the statements as standards do not work in NYC where things are land locked. Just because this is not the case here does not mean that the decision needs to be driven to the perimeter. Second, I posted the quote hoping that some one would check out the publication from the library and read it. It is not available for non APA members electronically.

As to some of the other key points in the chapter:
History of USA schools and neighborhood design and how that concept got lost to “bigger is better”
Changing trend in school design and size and realization that this movement is not the best
Policies that favor new construction over renovation
Lack of coordination between school facility planning and land-use planning
Separation of school siting decisions from long-term transportation cost
Biased funding rules
Children’s health issues
Dwindling funding for busing
School facility planning and enrollment forecasting
School district construction advisory committee
School financing and budgeting
Transportation: safe school access, neighborhood traffic management, and safe routes to school

Robert DeAtley wrote on May 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm

One of the slides in the D/R presentation shows a possible 40-acre high school site, which includes 1,600 parking spaces, 3 baseball fields, 3 softball fields, 6 tennis courts, 2 restroom and field house structures, 4 band/PE playing fields, a larger competition field with bleachers, and a 150,000 to 280,000 SF school. I’d like to see the breakdown of what is at Centennial now (or after proposed renovations). After all, maybe D/R and Unit 4 should be suggesting to voters that we fund the purchase and development of a 60-acre site, so the new facility can have even more parking and more playing fields!  What are the true needs of a new school, and when you begin to lay out these true needs (not wants), how large of a site does a new school really need?

StateStreetBrat wrote on May 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Do you think these additional taxes are fair to an FAR overburdened consitutency? On the horizon we will see an increase in taxes for the library; next an increase for MTD; followed by an increase for Teacher's retirement since the state of Illinois won't pay for it; increases for other Unit 4 expenditures; and countless other increases created by our "elected" officials.  Let's get real, we don't have any more $$!! Where do you think taxpayers are going to come up with these additional tax expenses? This is a perfect example of more government "looting". Ayn Rand was right to warn of the growth of parasitic government. Enough is enough.......

MSJ66 wrote on May 10, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Fed up with EVERY city entity wanting more money and coming to taxpayers to give more and more. How about we quit giving all the taxpayer money to already wealthy developers and use that tax money for the residents of the city who are paying it? Put me down for a BIG NO on any vote asking for more taxes for any purpose. People are tapped out so make do with what you have.