Neighbors voice concerns about Central-Spalding site

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."

Meeting tonight

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.

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welive wrote on June 13, 2014 at 8:06 am

ye i lived in that area as a kid 20 plus years ago and it looked scary then.Drove thru it a couple days ago and it looks about the same scarry.

And the new school would hurt this how?


IlliniwekMerica wrote on June 13, 2014 at 8:06 am

These neighbors are actually saying "get off my lawn".  Hilarious. 

rsp wrote on June 13, 2014 at 9:06 am

Maybe as part of those in-school detentions they give the kids could go out and pick up trash around the schools. If parents don't like it they can teach their kids to stop throwing it on the ground. Kids who get caught throwing garbage down should get detentions too. And if they are speeding through the neighborhood they need to report them. If they don't lose their license the school should ban them from driving to school. This is why schools should be smaller. It is no longer about the student. It's not about preparing them for the future.

jmh910 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 10:06 am

I went to Central and a friend & I were caught littering at lunch time.  Our punishment was to go pick up trash in West Side Park after school until we each filled a large garbage bag.

It was definitely more effective punishment than a detention, and to this day I don't litter. (not just because of that, but it's always in the back of my head).


alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm
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I don't see how a high school could legally forbid students from driving to school.  Besides that, I like your ideas.

pattsi wrote on June 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

There is an alternative site not being considered in the mix. Go look at the intersection of Nei and Bradley. Then visualize using all 4 corners--only one has a house on the site, for a HS. All connected by ped walks, aka Carle Hospital. The computer labs, library, cafeteria, etc. could be placed in the ped walk area. In addition, the HS curriculum could integrate so the older students help teach the younger students at Stratton.

This could all be integrated with the redevelopment of Bristol Park and an excellent opportunity for economic development along Neil between downtown and Market Place that has never occurred since Market Place basiclaly dried up downtown--this would create connectivity between the two.

And then turn the UIUC School of Architecture and students loose creating designs for this intriguing space. End result very little displacement of people, keeping the HS south of the freeway thus staying more sprawl and traffic conjestion, giving the older students purpose and integration into the education system, and more than likely a HS building design that will win national awards


alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm
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That all sounds like it would be a lot more expensive than the other options.  I can't imagine that ped walks are cheap (or that you could fit a cafeteria in one....huh???)

Are you accounting for ample parking spaces with this theoretical design?  I don't care about the athletic fields, but this is 2014.....every high school should have a large parking lot.

This all sounds very pie-in-the-sky to me.  Maybe the architecture school could find some way to cram all that stuff into such a tiny space at a reasonable price, but I really doubt it.

pattsi wrote on June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Good to read that you would put the athletic fields north of I-74. Not good that you want accommodations for cars rather than think of alternative means What do the folks in land locked communities do? Let us think as if we are land locked? And last but not least, what I wrote is pie in the sky, but not mundane. And this would engage the whole community to make it hapen.  :-)  Mundacity stiffels. i

alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm
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Sorry, but now you're being very idealistic if you think parking isn't important.  Really now, what practical "alternative means" are there?  Busses?  No high school student wants to wake up at 6 in the morning, just so they can catch a 45 minute ride on an MTD/school bus that is packed with a claustrophobia-inducing amount of other students.  Absences and dropout rates would skyrocket if busses were the main transportation option to school.  Try to be realistic here.  I must say, I have substantial doubts that the whole community would unite behind your proposal, whether there was adequate parking or not.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 5:06 pm
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On a related note, though.....if they are going to tear down the whole Bristol Park neighborhood (which seems wrong to me, but OK), then I don't see why that area wouldn't be ideal for the high school.  That's a large chunk of area, certainly enough for everything the district would want.  And there wouldn't be neighbors to complain, because you've kicked them all out of their homes already.  I haven't heard, what else is the city planning on putting there if/when they tear that neighborhood down?

pattsi wrote on June 14, 2014 at 8:06 am

Bristol Park plan is to rebuid the area with new housing, aka what is happening further east along Bradley. You have triggered an interesting prospect nontheless with your question--why not trade that land for land near Spaulding or another area for the rebuilding project? Again thinking outside the box.

The community needs community wide charrette where the citizens can come together and move pieces around a huge map of the district to help visualize possibilities rather than just sit at a meeting. Visualiation would aid understanding traffic implications, pressures on near by housing, connectivity throughout the community, relationships by distance to elementary and junior high schools, walkability--I am not ready to keep feeding the goat and enabling students to drive to school. Just a reminder this is a 5 decade project--what will transportation be like in those years, how will education be delivered during those years--all of which ought to be part of the conversation with what do the residents want the community to be like. Placement of a school is a determintive factor as to how a comunity wil grow or not.

rsp wrote on June 14, 2014 at 9:06 am

I'm still bothered by the idea that they seem to be driven to design this whole thing around sports facilities, and not starting at what kind of education the kids are needing now and in the future. How many alternative schools can we spin off because we didn't do this? How many students go to Parkland and take remedial classes to make up for what happened in high school? Bigger isn't always better.

I heard a comment about how STM didn't take the pressure off the crowding like people thought, but the comment didn't address the economy and how many re-enrolled in the public schools. I think it was a board member. If the school board is expecting a private school to be our third high school to ease the burden it's a problem.

Champaign Guest wrote on June 13, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I wonder how much extra it would cost to bury the parking on a smaller site? I'm thinking of Krannert Center in town and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, which both have nice green spaces on top of underground parking.

pattsi wrote on June 13, 2014 at 11:06 pm

The plan presented this evening for the Spauling area includes a 4-story parking deck for 650 cars.

Champaign Guest wrote on June 14, 2014 at 12:06 am

Looks like Unit 4 has a news item up with the plans.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm
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These "potential neighbors" probably don't want to hear this, but their neighborhoods are already kind of, uh, what's the nicest way to say this......."worn down."  How could a high school ruin neighborhoods that already look ruined?

The only symptathy I have for these neighbors is if the district tries to use eminent domain to tear down homes for their precious athletic fields.  I don't know if there are legal stipulations related to the land near the mall that would prevent this.....but why not build the fields there, and build the high school at the Spaulding Park site?  I know that wouldn't settle the Freudian envy that Unit 4 undoubtedly has towards the athletic complex in Bloomington, but so be it.

mee wrote on June 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm

There is no room for athletic fields at this site.  It is obvious that the new Central High School must be located north of town.  The school needs room to spread out.

ilmsff7 wrote on June 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Maybe this is why Unit 4 first chose to go north of town - to avoid the NIMBYs.

pattsi wrote on June 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Interesting argument in light of the argument put forth by an Urbana friend. This individual choses to live in the Carle Park area so the children can walk to school, etc. By choosing to do this, one pays a premium pric of e for housing and then on top of his high property assessment pays a premium property tax. So why no MIMBYISM around Carle Park?

djward wrote on June 25, 2014 at 10:06 pm

I'm disappointed by the misleading title of this article. "Potential neighbors mostly opposed" gives the impression that a large number of neighbors have come out against the project. But then the article says that a half-dozen neighbors were interviewed. By my math, a half-dozen is six. And then it says that those six neighbors expressed "mostly" opposition. So only four or five of them actually were opposed? And thus four or five people being opposed to something warrants a full article about how "most" neighbors are opposed?! Uggh. Surely that's not rigorous journalism we should expect from the N-G.

I live half a block away from Spalding. I have three children currently in the Unit 4 schools. My wife and I, along with our nearly 18-year-old daughter, are all highly in favor of Central at the Spalding site (based on the information presented to us so far). So right there I've provided you with nearly the equal amount of "opposed" people you interviewed who disagree with the basis of your article.

I'm confident that there are plenty of neighbors who don't want the school there. Probably even more than four or five! And I certainly understand why some people are opposed. But I'm also confident that there are plenty of neighbors who would welcome the development and renewal of our neighborhood that the school would bring. My family would definitely miss the park and all that it offers (though we've been promised all sorts of nice amenities there by the park district throughout the years that haven't panned out). But, a centrally located Central is best for our overall community, and the Spalding site just makes sense. I'm grateful that the school district and park district finally started looking at it seriously.