Champaign school board 'not interested in eminent domain'
If the next Central High School is built on the site that includes Spalding Park, it won't be at the expense of area homeowners, Superintendent Judy Wiegand says.
"The board is not interested in eminent domain," said Wiegand, who's intrigued by a long-term, land-banking strategy used by the Urbana school district.
A week ago, Urbana closed on the purchase of a home at 906 S. Race Street, one block north of the high school. It's the 15th lot of 21 on the block that the district has acquired as part of a program that began in the 1990s.
"Years and years ago, we knew we were interested in that block," Urbana Chief Financial Officer Carol Baker said. "At one time, we sent out letters to the owners of the lots telling them of our interest in them."
How the process works, according to Baker:
Once an owner expresses interest in selling, that person and the district hire independent appraisers to determine the property's value. "In most cases, the appraisals aren't that far apart," Baker said.
Once both sides come to terms, the proposed sale goes to the school board for approval. The district sets aside $100,000 a year in its budget for property acquisition; the home at 906 S. Race sold last week for $97,000.
Once the purchase goes through, the district works with a property manager, whose charge is to lease homes on the lots for as long as possible. If possible, that is. "There were a few houses that we bought that needed so much work to be rentable, so we decided not to went out those," Baker said. "Our property manager takes care of the maintenance on the houses from the rent money that we take in."
Baker said the district does not have a grand plan for what to do with the block — or when to do it. But she said it is important to have land available for future projects or uses not yet dreamed of by current school officials.