CHAMPAIGN — Taxpayers should know the school district's detailed plans for building a new Central and upgrading Centennial by July — four months before they'll likely be asked to foot the bulk of the bill for the high school upgrades.
Jason Lembke of the DLR Group, an architectural firm under contract with Unit 4, outlined to the school board on Monday night many of the steps that will take place as the district prepares to ask voters to approve a hefty property tax hike in November.
The timeline Lembke laid out:
— There will be two different surveys of likely voters to help school officials learn public views before features of the two high schools are determined. The first survey could take place as early as this week, Lembke said.
— There will be two opportunities for "invited community stakeholders" to sit down with planners. Those invitations have not yet been sent out, Unit 4 spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said.
— Between May 14-20, there will be planning meetings, where attendees can watch what Lembke called "virtual tours" of what the schools would look like if voters approve the ballot question.
— There will be two community input sessions — again, only for invited citizens — to be held on May 22 and June 17.
— There will be a community meeting dealing with site selection on May 29. Though the district has agreed to the $3.2 million purchase of 80 acres of farmland in northernmost Champaign, board President Laurie Bonnett and Superintendent Judy Wiegand said last week they're open to exploring the possibilities of a new site proposed by the Champaign Park District.
However, there was no mention during Monday's three-hour meeting of that site, which stretches from Spalding Park on the east, across Franklin Middle School and to Judah Christian on the west.
If all goes according to schedule, the school board will hold a special meeting in July to approve the high school plans. The board would have until Aug. 17 vote to approve specific language for the ballot question.
Master plan unveiled
As expected, officials unveiled their "Master Facility Plan" — a long-range look at Unit 4's preferences for its buildings.
Business services executive director Matt Foster said the plan was based on the work of the district's facility committee and discussions by the school board.
The major facets:
— Administrative services — including those now taking place at the former Columbia school, the Mellon Administrative Center, the Family Information Center and the Novak Academy — would be consolidated at a single site.
— A new, four-strand K-8 school would be built at a new site to replace Dr. Howard Elementary. The school would be designed to hold 900 students.
— Additions and renovations would be made to South Side Elementary and the International Prep Academy. Both buildings would hold 383 students.
— Edison Middle School would be rebuilt at a new site. Edison, Franklin and Jefferson — the district's three middle schools — would each hold 675 students.
— The new Central and renovated Centennial would both be configured for 1,700 students.
"It is definitely a good mix," school board member Jamar Brown said. "There will be a full board vote on what this looks like, and we will continue to refine this plan up until August."