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.
"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.