Champaign polling residents on high school site
CHAMPAIGN — If you're a registered voter living in the Champaign school district, you might be getting a call today asking which site you prefer for the new Central High School.
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The next phase of the district's school facilities plan kicks in today — with telephone polling of taxpayers — Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand told The News-Gazette on Monday night following a special school board meeting held mostly in closed session.
Wiegand said a research service will poll 400 voters living within the school district's boundaries to learn their preferences for where a new Central High School would go. The options have doubled in recent weeks — from 80 acres of farmland in northernmost Champaign, which the school board approved the $3.2 million purchase of in January, to that site plus a new, much smaller one that stretches from Spalding Park on the east, across Franklin Middle School and to Judah Christian School on the west.
The board will learn the results of the poll during the first week in June, Wiegand said.
Less than three months remain before the Unit 4 school board must decide whether to ask voters to agree to a hefty property tax in exchange for new and renovated schools. The "ballpark figures" Wiegand has cited throughout the process, and repeated Thursday during an extended interview with Jim Turpin on WDWS 1400-AM: $80 million to build a new Central (on the Interstate Drive site), $40 million to renovate Centennial High, and between $15 million and $18 million for a new Dr. Howard Elementary (if the board elects to add that project to the ballot question in November).
District officials anticipate a stream of activity between now and Aug. 17, the state law-mandated deadline for the board to decide whether to ask a ballot question of voters on Nov. 4.
Also happening between now and then:
— Representatives from Gorski Reifsteck and DLR Group — the architectural/construction firms Unit 4 has contracts with — are currently holding discussions with teacher leaders and students at both Central and Centennial, Wiegand said. The goal: to make programming recommendations that would be offered at the two high schools.
— Those recommendations will be forwarded to the school board in time for its June 30 meeting, Wiegand said. The information will be used to come up with a price tag for the proposed work.
"Once they have completed the programming models, they will probably give us the estimated costs at that time," Wiegand said.
— While the district is considering 20-year bonds for the work, Wiegand said that special legislation, if approved by the General Assembly, could allow Unit 4 to use 30-year bonds instead. "It's a possibility," she said.
— The school board probably won't decide whether to include schools other than Central and Centennial in the ballot question until late June or early July, the superintendent said.
Champaign's two public high schools are priority No. 1, Wiegand has said, followed by Dr. Howard and South Side elementary schools.
— Calculation of what's certain to be the big issue for voters — how much their property taxes could go up — won't be known until the first week of July, Wiegand said. "Once we have more information about programming and the costs, we could conduct a second poll of registered voters in July," Wiegand said.
— Then it's on to figuring out the exact wording of the ballot question. That part wouldn't be approved until Aug. 11, the board's final scheduled meeting prior to the state's Aug. 17 deadline.
And if the ballot question is approved by voters on Nov. 4? Wiegand said it would take about a year to design the new and renovated schools, with construction beginning in the spring of 2016.
"We are probably looking at the fall of 2018 before it would be completed," Wiegand said.