Board may vote today on hiring school site search firm
Consultant would help narrow down current list of candidates for a high school
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board will meet today (Thursday, Nov. 7) to consider hiring an outside firm to help it narrow down and understand the costs to develop potential sites for a new Central High School.
The goal is to choose a site for the school by the end of the year.
The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. today at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.
The contract with Gorski Reifsteck, a Champaign architectural and construction management firm, would carry an expected price tag of about $66,000. The money would come from the school district's education fund, because it's a consulting fee, Superintendent Judy Wiegand said.
It also includes a timeline with specific goals for narrowing down and choosing a site for a new Central High School by the end of the school year.
The school district's proposed contract with Gorski Reifsteck is the result of a request for qualifications it issued in July, seeking help in choosing a site. Three vendors submitted information, and after two rounds of interviews, the school district administration is recommending Gorski Reifsteck.
Board members will also discuss the possibility of hiring a real-estate agent or firm to help it identify more high school sites, Wiegand said, but that's not necessarily a recommendation she's making.
"We believe the board has sufficient sites to look at," Wiegand said, referring to herself and Matt Foster, the school district's executive director of business services. "But it will be up to the board to see if there's value in having a Realtor identify more sites. We will give our recommendation, but board will discuss it publicly."
Since putting out the request for qualifications, Wiegand said, a variety of Realtors and community members have submitted six more sites than the school district had been considering.
School board President Laurie Bonnett said working with Gorski Reifsteck will help board members make a decision based on criteria they believe are important, but using data, not emotion.
"We want to try to remove the emotion as much as we possibly can," Bonnett said. "I think we all have sites we might favor, but really what's the best for the community?"
If the contract is approved, the board at its Nov. 18 meeting will discuss possible sites, with the goal of narrowing the list down to six by the end of the meeting.
Following that, Gorski Reifsteck would "perform a cursory look" at infrastructure available to those sites, and look at what it would take to develop them, according to a letter to the school district from the firm, which is included in board documents.
Then the board would have a special meeting Dec. 2 to discuss those findings and narrowing that list to three sites.
After that meeting, Gorski Reifsteck would "prepare conceptual site organization diagrams confirming 'fit' of your program on the three short-listed sites," according to the letter. That evaluation would include the firm looking at high schools in similar communities, including in Urbana. The contract would also allow for Gorski Reifsteck to create estimates of "true development costs" of the three sites.
"Estimate of purchase price would be provided by others and is not part of these services," the letter said. It's possible the school district will also pay for specialty engineering reports on its final two or three sites, Wiegand said, including to study the environmental impact, traffic, possible asbestos removal and more.
Money for those studies would also come from the school district's education fund, although the school district has set aside money to actually buy property for a new Central with money from the school facilities sales tax.
The school district would pay for these studies to make sure it knows what to expect from the final site it chooses.
The firm would present those findings at the board's Dec. 9 meeting, and the board could decide on a site that evening.
"We want to have a site selected by the end of the year," Bonnett said, so the board can focus on how and when to ask voters for a property tax increase to pay for a new high school and, possibly, other building or renovation projects.
Bonnett said the contract would give the board a plan for choosing a site, allow it to stay focused and let the community know what to expect.
"It allows the community to know what movement to expect from us," Bonnett said, adding that there have been "bumps" in the process of selecting a new high school site. The goal of working with Gorski Reifsteck will keep the board stay on track, she said.
Bonnett said additional sites, along with those the school district has publicized, have been presented to the board.
"There are a lot of great sites," she said, but the board needs help in analyzing what works best for the district's needs, including size of the site and other factors, like drainage and access to utilities.
"We want to get the job done," Bonnett said, and board members have heard from community members and at a recent town hall meeting, that residents want the board to make a decision. "Now is the time for action, and that's what we're committed to do by the end of December."