St. Thomas More plans to buy adjoining land

CHAMPAIGN — If the Champaign City Council approves the division of a parcel of land, the High School of St. Thomas More is planning to buy 20 acres directly to its north from The Atkins Group.

Right now, soybeans are growing on the parcel. And it's possible it will continue to be farmed, as the school, its board of trustees and pastor's board decide how it will use the land, Principal Ryan Bustle said.

The Atkins Group is subdividing a larger parcel of land to sell 20 acres to St. Thomas More. The subdivision of the parcel must be approved by the city council.

The plan is up for council approval next Tuesday.

Bustle said the school will not disclose the purchase price; he said the school's foundation liquidated assets to purchase the parcel.

The school's board of trustees and pastor's board will look at enrollment projections and start talking this year about what the school will do with the land. It's possible it will allow for expansion of academic space, Bustle said, or athletic facilities.

The school now sits on 40 acres.

"We want this move to send the message to our community that we are focused on the livelihood of (the school) and that we are beginning to see a renewed enthusiasm for its growth," Bustle said.

Joe McDaniel, the school's development director, said owning the land is just a different kind of asset for the school.

"We just thought it would be a wise business decision at this point in time," McDaniel said.

Bustle, who started as principal at the school last year, said it came up early last year to buy the parcel.

But, he said he understood that the school and The Atkins Group have been discussing the purchase for quite some time.

Mark Dixon, director of real estate for The Atkins Group, said it came up within a few years after the school was built on north Mattis Avenue. The school opened in 2000.

The school will be included in The Atkins Group's Clearview mixed-use development, and Dixon said the school is "important not only for the development, but the community."

The Atkins Group submitted a Clearview master plan to the city in 2007, and that plan predicted the school would grow, Dixon said, even though The Atkins Group didn't own the parcel it's now selling the school at that time.

Jeff Marino, a Champaign city planner, said the subdivision is pretty straightforward from the city's perspective because the school doesn't yet have plans for how it will develop the 20 acres, Marino said.

In the future, though, Marino said the city will work with the school on infrastructure requirements for things like street lights, trees, sidewalks and the like.

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