Alums weigh in on sites for new Central High School
If all goes according to plan, we could know the three site finalists for the new Central High School by late Monday. Then, as soon as a week later, the Champaign school board could pick a winner.
But why wait? The News-Gazette turned to a retired UI English professor of 45 years, a 26-year-old Olympic swimmer and other distinguished former Maroons for their educated takes on the hot topic in town.
We picked one familiar face per decade — starting with a basketball legend from the 1940s, when the school went by Champaign High, and ending with a star cheerleader from Central's Class of 2013.
Ted Beach, Class of 1947
No. 1 priority: "I'm about 64 years from graduating high school, but I have had kids and grandkids in Unit 4. I'm close to Central athletics, so obviously I think they need to have what's needed to give a quality education to the kids, and space and grounds for outside activities that Central hasn't had for years. Two of my grandchildren were in the marching band and I know how cramped they were for space. To practice outside they had to go out to Centennial."
The site I like:"The one by St. Thomas More (north of the I-57/I-74 interchange, west of Mattis Avenue and south of the High School of St. Thomas More) would probably be OK, but I don't have a strong opinion. I know they've studied it carefully and I can't argue with what they're doing. If I had my druthers, I'd like to see it someplace in town."
Beach is a basketball legend from the 1940s.
Emily S. Watts, Class of 1954
No. 1 priority: "I have taught in bad conditions. You can teach well in those classrooms, and teaching can be done. As long as there's equipment in the chemistry room, as long as there is a place students can go and teachers can teach, that's what we need. There are wonderful teachers in the system and we just need to support them."
The site I like: "I feel that Champaign Central should remain Champaign Central — and not necessarily for sentimental value. When the school board decreed that Lottie Switzer Elementary was no longer usable, they sold it and Judah Christian took it over and turned it into a school that is vibrant and workable. I think school boards worry too much about buildings and not enough about the classroom. We have some lovely buildings that are well kept up, and I understand building a new school when population has shifted, like Carrie Busey in Savoy. But I wish we would pay more attention to what is going on in the classroom, to see that each student receives the kind of education we want them to have. We don't need such beautiful buildings to do that."
Watts is a retired University of Illinois English professor
Nathaniel Banks, Class of 1966
No. 1 priority: "The main thing I think a new Central should have is a facility that is adequate to the programs that are going to be going on in the school. I'm interested in the arts, so I would like to see a really fine, state-of-the-art arts complex for theater, dance, bands and orchestra. In my thinking, that's really important."
The site I like: "I'm not partial to any one of them over another. My answer would be, as long as whatever site is chosen has good accessibility for students either driving in or coming in on the bus, that's the main thing."
Banks is an accomplished jazz trumpeter.
Clarence McFarland, Class of 1977
No. 1 priority: "Good air-conditioning and good heat. It definitely needs air-conditioning."
The site I like:"The one over by St. Thomas More sounds pretty good. Prospect is a busy street and these kids are trying to drive, so you might see a lot of accidents then. But the one by St. Thomas More might be the best. It's not too busy with traffic."
McFarland works for Springfield Electric in Champaign.
Parham Parastaran, Class of 1989
No. 1 priority: "I think it needs to have a place where they have their sports complex on site. That's one of the biggest problems with Central. I played tennis in high school and practice was somewhere else. Going to play football at Centennial's field doesn't feel like a home game. They need to have all their activities in the same place, at their school."
The site I like: "The one by St. Thomas More, that's my favorite. It seems to be the most convenient. The others are in what feels like more of a retail area. It just doesn't feel like a school setting."
Parastaran is owner of the local Car-X auto repair shops.
Leconte Nix, Class of 1997
No. 1 priority: "We need to have our own athletic facilities, and having a home and won't have to get on a bus. It will be a place that kids can call their own. They can feel a sense of pride about our stuff, that this is our home, and this is where we're going to perform and practice."
The site I like: "I think I like the one by Wal-Mart (at Interstate Drive and Neil Street). It's still a more central location for our students. With the open campus, it would be huge because there are so many restaurants out there. And for our kids with special needs taking life skills classes, I think it would be the easiest location for them to get in and out of."
Nix is an aide and coach at Central.
Tyler McGill, Class of 2006
No. 1 priority: "If it wants to be a great school, it has to have all the potential resources a school would need. More so than not, that means having the technology resources that both teachers and students need to be successful. From an athletic standpoint, same idea. ... My dream would be an indoor 50-meter pool. It needs to have those facilities, those locker rooms; they need to be on site and they need to be done well. If you're going to build a new school, you can't start looking for ways to cut corners. If you're going to build a new school, it needs to be done right."
The site I like: "It's just hard for me to envision something so far away from what is Central and really so far away from the community in the center of Champaign. What Champaign Central represented to me was Champaign and being in the middle of the city. It's hard for me to envision a school that's so far removed from the pulse of Champaign."
McGill is an Olympic swimmer.
Catie Grey, Class of 2013
No. 1 priority: "I think that Central needs its own identity. We haven't been able to use our own facilities because we haven't had them. I think it would be nice for Central to have their own stuff: athletic facilities, resources of their own, new computers, new equipment."
The site I like: "I really like (the site east of the Interstate Research Park, between Interstate and Olympian drives). I think that it provides really easy access from the interstate, which is helpful but it also has a lot of land for potential growth if they want to add on."
Grey is a student at Bradley University in Peoria.