Many potential high school locations on city's northern fringe

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 sites 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.

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pattsi wrote on November 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is appropo for this situation--all of the HS sites under consideration are vacant land--even Country Fair where many want those buildings demolished, on the periphery, and little regard as to what this will do to the community for the next 5 decades. Plus it is the antithesis of what is espoused by the Champaign city council and planning department--in fill and enough land presently zoned and with infrastructure for the next 20-25 years of development. It does not take an urban planner to envision the effect on this community if a HS is sited near or beyond any of the freeways. This not only burdens the taxpayer with increased property taxes to buy and build, increased costs for transportation and infrastructure building and maintenance, inequity related to the community demographics and population density, and just plain poor urban planning.

This is an opportunty and a half for Unit 4 to make a significant mark on the redevelopment of the central core of Champaign, enhance connectivity between downtown and Market Place, encourage central core economic development, and combine the plans for the redevelopment of the Bristol Park area with siting the HS in proximity to this area--Spaulding/Judah/Franklin, intersection of Bradley and NeilStratton/Columbia--as examples. Country Fair is not central core and this space is right next to the other HS--does not make much sense if we really want to maintain a two HS community. In addition, clutching to old paradigms as to what a HS campus must look like and contain appears to be lagging problem solving in that how people are schooled is changing as I type; yet we are discussing to build as is if this is still the 1950's. Collectively, there are enough brilliant problem solvers in this community to come up with creative plans, design plans, space use, enhancing connectivity and walkability that are not being engaged. Actually, this is a very important question--why isn't the community more engaged, in particular the non White and lower income sub populations that will be highly effected by any shown site.

The really depressing aspect of the whole situation has to do with the purposefully determinations of many past boards in that the vision was an 80 acre campus at the edge of town so there was no reason to have a Plan B, meaning why buy properties around Central just in case. Even if the final decision turned out to be build at the edge of town, Unit 4 would have had land investment that today would turn a nice profit for the district.

increvable wrote on November 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I don't understand your assertion that Country Fair is not a central core location. The article mentions that the geographic center of student distribution is at Mattis and John. Country Fair is already well-connected in the MTD network. It's certainly on the periphery with respect to downtown Champaign and the current site of Central, but not nearly so much as, say, the Olympian Drive sites.

Similarly, I don't understand your assertion that having two high schools within a few blocks of each other poses any difficulties in continuing to have two high schools. Having Central continue to share athletic facilities with Centennial makes a great deal of sense and, in fact, would be considerably easier at the Country Fair location. The new Central should have its own gyms, but building a completely new football field to play 4 or 5 games a year plus playoff games doesn't seem like a good use of funds or land. Similarly, with good coordination between the coaching staffs, one pool should be sufficient for two swimming and diving programs. If students could walk or take a shuttle from one high school to the other, then specialty classes for which only one section might be needed could be offered where that might not make sense now. Perhaps Centennial's science faculty could focus on specializing in teaching advanced chemistry classes appropriate to the existing labs while the new Central could build advanced biology labs. Having Central and Centennial in close proximity might also open up a wider variety of extracurricular activities. This kind of thoughtful sharing of resources is a good way for Unit 4 to make the best use of taxpayer funds and offer the widest variety of opportunities to Champaign's high school students.

Country Fair is not coming back, but there are many businesses in that area which would get a shot in the arm from the additional traffic that Central's students would bring. The necessary infrastructure is already in place compared to a greenfield site. Buying out the businesses, tearing down Country Fair and building a new high school on the site solves two problems at one stroke. I hope the school board is taking the possibility seriously.