Neighbors voice concerns about Central-Spalding site
CHAMPAIGN — A new Central High School in or near Spalding Park may be the perfect solution for some Champaign voters, but it's not winning raves from potential neighbors.
In interviews this week, a half-dozen residents who live close to the proposed school site expressed mostly opposition to the plan under study by the Champaign school district.
Why? They cite three T's: traffic, trash and teenagers.
"I don't want it. Traffic would be a nightmare," said Cathy Beasley, who lives on the south side of Harvard Street.
For those whose property could stand in the way of athletic fields and other high school amenities, the proposal is more personal.
"I say forget it. I'm 70 years old and I don't want to go out and have to find another house and pay twice what I did here," said Daniel Hardy, who has lived on Sherwood Terrace for 64 years.
School officials have said that, over time, they may want to acquire up to 65 properties that border the proposed school site, primarily along Sherwood Terrace and Harvard Street. The initial proposal, drawn up by architect Neil Strack, showed the school district eventually acquiring only about 40 properties along Sherwood to use for athletic fields, but that expansion could be done in phases over a period of years, Strack said Thursday.
Rita Riley is more willing to sell. She was thinking of moving from her Harvard Street home anyway, possibly back to her hometown of Chicago.
She also likes the idea of a new school, saying it won't be that different from having a middle school (Franklin) and private school (Judah Christian) in the neighborhood now.
"It wouldn't bother me," said Riley, whose house backs up against the fields between Judah and Franklin.
Riley and other neighbors plan to attend a public meeting with school officials at 5 p.m. today at Franklin, 817 N. Harris St., to discuss the proposal. The school board invited neighbors, park board members and city council members to the informal meeting.
The agenda will include introductory remarks from Superintendent Judy Wiegand and a brief presentation by Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group, architects for the high school project, about "what may possibly be in the works and what that may mean for neighbors," said district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart. Residents will also have an opportunity for written feedback, to document questions and concerns, she said.
Neighbors had plenty on Wednesday.
No. 1 is traffic. Neighbors say drivers already use Harvard Street as a shortcut to avoid stoplights on Prospect Avenue. Cars speeding down Harvard don't yield, said William Garner, Riley's next-door neighbor.
"Cars use this as a speedway — after school, before school, even in the evenings," said Judy Costa, who lives on the south side of Harvard.
School buses use the residential street on their way to Franklin, Garner said. And a steady stream of cars during morning drop-off makes it tough to get out of the driveway, said Vickie Ragle, Beasley's next-door neighbor.
"If I leave at 7:30 in the morning, it takes me 'til 8 to get out," Ragle said.
Neighbors question why the district would exacerbate traffic concerns by building a high school.
The plan is predicated on Judah Christian moving, and possibly Franklin someday. Asked if that would make a difference, Beasley just shook her head.
High school kids drive, she said, and have more after-school activities.
"The traffic is bad enough around here with just Franklin down at the end of the street," Costa agreed. "I don't mind the younger children being here. I'm more concerned about the traffic. And probably students driving as opposed to parents driving."
Beasley added, "Just look at the current Central, when students walk along University to go up the street for lunch. They leave trash everywhere."
Even some middle school students leave trash in the Harvard Street neighborhood, Garner said.
"I try to keep my yard straight. Kids walk around and drop trash and don't worry about it," he said.
And Central would be much bigger, Garner added. Franklin has 585 students, and Judah Christian 510 in preschool through high school. Central's enrollment tops 1,100 and it would be built to hold 1,600 or 1,700 students. It would also consume "a lot of land and property," he said, including part of Spalding Park itself.
Beasley would rather see Spalding rehabilitated as a park. She likes to walk there and said kids enjoy the baseball field and skatepark.
At the last neighborhood meeting, Beasley said, park officials were talking about building a new all-purpose building and applying for grants for other improvements.
While schools can anchor neighborhoods, drawing families with children, residents of this neighborhood tend to be older, Beasley said. They don't necessarily want the activity that accompanies a school.
"I just want quiet," she said. "It's not very transient. People don't come and go. They stay here a long time."
Harvard Street residents Paul and Cindy Brown do have young children who attend Stratton Elementary School a few blocks east of Spalding Park. They like having the elementary and middle school close by; they're not so thrilled about the idea of a high school.
Besides the traffic, Cindy Brown said, "my kids don't need to mingle with the high school students."
"I've been out of high school myself for 10 years. I know how high schoolers are. I know how we used to be," she said. "They're not exactly the friendliest group."
"Overall, it's going to be a big, congested mess in my opinion," Brown said.
Brown said some families might like having a high school close by, but "the thing is the neighborhood around here is not the safest to start with. We've got our fair share of problems. And then you're going to add the high schoolers right there? I'm worried about how many more problems are going to come because of it."
Got questions about a proposed high school in Spalding Park? Architects may have some preliminary plans to share this evening.
WHAT: The Champaign school district has invited residents to talk with school administrators about a proposal to build a new Central High School in the Spalding neighborhood. The meeting will include a presentation by Gorski Reifsteck/DLR Group, remarks from Superintendent Judy Wiegand, and an opportunity for written feedback.
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. today
WHERE: Franklin Middle School, 817 N. Harris Ave., C.
WHO: Champaign City Council members and Champaign Park District board have also been invited, and the public is welcome.