Many potential high school locations on city's northern fringe
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board will consider a total of 15 sites for a possible new Central High School before it starts to narrow that list.
The goal is to choose a site for the new high school by the end of the year.
The board will discuss the sites at meetings Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, and possibly choose a final site Dec. 9.
The school board Thursday hired architectural and construction planning firm Gorski Reifsteck to help with that process.
According to a map provided by the school district, the 15 sites include six that are newer to the board's list of possibilities:
— Near the intersection of Market Street and Wallace Avenue, which is the northernmost street in the Wilber Heights neighborhood.
— North of the T-intersection of Interstate Drive and Neil Street, east of the Ashland Park subdivision.
— East of Interstate Research Park and between Olympian and Interstate drives.
— North of the Interstates 57 and 74 interchange, west of Mattis Avenue and south of the High School of St. Thomas More.
— Between I-74 and U.S. 150, and between Duncan and Staley Roads.
— South of Curtis Road, between Duncan Road and I-57.
It also includes nine sites the board has previously discussed or listed:
— South of the Interstates 57 and 74 interchange and west of Mattis Avenue.
— Country Fair shopping center, northwest of the intersection of Springfield and Mattis avenues.
— Bradley Avenue and Oak Street.
— North of Olympian Drive, just east of Prospect Avenue.
— North of Olympian Drive, just west of Prospect Avenue.
— Southwest corner of Market Street and Olympian Drive.
— East of I-57 and west of Duncan Road on Kirby Avenue.
— Near intersection of Duncan and Cardinal roads.
— First Street and Curtis Road.
School board President Laurie Bonnett said the board will have to decide as a group about whether it will narrow the choices in open or closed session.
Bonnett said she knows some people believe it could put the school district at a competitive disadvantage when negotiating to buy a site to discuss the progressively smaller lists in public. At the same time, she said, she knows residents are also eager to hear about the sites.
Bonnett said it's her goal to make a decision based on the data involved — what each site offers in terms of accessibility, existing utilities and infrastructure — as well as what sites cost. She said the board will refer to each site by a number, rather than the name of the person who owns it or what subdivision or development it's a part of.
"I think that helps remove some of the emotion from the sites," she said.
Gorski Reifsteck will also work with school board members individually to rank the sites they believe are their top six, Bonnett said, and then evaluate the semifinalist sites using criteria such as location, existing utilities and other factors.
That will allow board members to express their thoughts individually, and Gorski Reifsteck will bring the results to the full board to help it decide on a location, Bonnett said.
Once the list is down to three, Bonnett said, the board will work with Gorski Reifsteck to look at how features such as athletic fields would fit on each site, and therefore evaluate how big the parcel needs to be.
"We will have to decide as a board" about those things, Bonnett said.
More things the board will have to decide:
— When to ask taxpayers in an election for a property tax increase.
— And whether that referendum would ask for money for a new Central High School, or for other renovation projects as well.
Bonnett said it's possible that a question could go on the ballot next spring or next fall.
"As a board, we have not made that decision," she said.
She said the board will also evaluate all of its current properties using software from BLDD Architects, and possibly "rearrange our assets to best maximize what we have now," Bonnett said, adding that she believes the school board needs to be good stewards of the school district's assets.
Bonnett said the work Gorski Reifsteck will do for the district is different than the work of public engagement firm DeJong-Richter, which last year held events for residents to weigh in on school district facilities.
"DeJong-Richter gave us a good idea of what the community wants and is willing to pay for," Bonnett said.