Strack questions district's Spalding calculations; Unit 4 cites 'apparent political agenda'
CHAMPAIGN — An architect who put together a site plan for a new Central High School at Spalding Park says the school district has well-overestimated what it would cost to build there, while Unit 4 officials stand behind their estimates.
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Engineers for the Champaign school district said during a community meeting last week that building a new high school at Spalding Park in central Champaign could cost as much as $45.8 million more than building on a site the district had already selected for the new high school — on Interstate Drive in north Champaign. That's $24 million for the site itself and $21.8 million for building construction.
In a written response to that estimate, Champaign architect Neil Strack said this week that school district engineers overestimated the cost to build at Spalding Park. In fact, he thinks the Spalding Park site would be cheaper.
"At this point in the site selection process, it is premature to assume a 15 percent higher building construction cost for the Spalding Park site, based on a 'broad brush stroke' estimate," Strack wrote in his report.
Strack had previously assembled a site plan placing Central High School at Spalding Park at the request of Champaign Park District board president Joe Petry. Petry has said he intends to run for mayor next year.
The question of cost would become central to the discussion if school officials shift their plan to build a new Central on a property they are purchasing on Interstate Drive in north Champaign. They have said building there would cost about $80 million, according to "ballpark figures" from earlier studies the district has commissioned.
School district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said in a statement issued Monday to The News-Gazette that officials "stand behind the information we have presented to the community" and are confident in their consultants. She said the district received Strack's report late Monday morning and had not yet completed their analysis of the information.
Officials are "surprised and disappointed," though, that the information comes with an "apparent political agenda."
"It's unfortunate that a few are looking to turn this conversation away from the educational needs of the children in our community to further an apparent political agenda," Stuart said. "It has been and will continue to be the work of the district and Board of Education to objectively evaluate the available sites for a new Central High School. Our focus will remain not on the special interests of the few, but on the best interests of all of our community stakeholders."
It appeared the school district had settled on the Interstate Drive site until April, when park and school officials said they were discussing possibilities around the Spalding Park site.
Strack said he thinks building at Spalding Park — which some have favored as a more central site for the high school — could be anywhere between $3.66 million and $13.56 million cheaper than building at Interstate Drive. Specifically, he said engineers hired by the school district made errors in their cost estimates for parking and underestimated the added expense of sidewalks, sewer and water service and storm-water detention at the as-yet undeveloped Interstate Drive site.
Strack said building a new high school at Interstate Drive could cost as much as $94.7 million, whereas the upper end of the Spalding Park site would be around $81.1 million. He could not be reached for further comment on Monday.
Stuart said the school district will continue to work with its engineers to determine project costs and share that information with the public. More information is coming this month.
"Upon initial reading, Mr. Strack is making a number of presumptions regarding his argument. Late last week, Mr. Strack requested preliminary programming information in advance and we informed him that our practice was not to provide advanced access to special interest groups," Stuart said. "The district will be sharing information at its June 30 Board of Education meeting and will answer many of the community's and Mr. Strack's questions at that time."