Architect: Site estimates overblown

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.

Have something to add to the Central site debate? Submit a letter to the editor online.

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."

 

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shurstrike wrote on June 24, 2014 at 3:06 pm

.

Champaign Guest wrote on June 24, 2014 at 9:06 am

For starters, there's a parking garage in the Spalding plan. Using a random source from the internet, parking lots run $1500-$3500 per space, and parking garages run $10000 to $20000 per space. For 625 spaces, thats between $4 and $11 million dollars more for the Spalding site.

jwr12 wrote on June 24, 2014 at 9:06 am

Is it possible to get more information about the relative continuing costs of the two sites?  There's the cost of building, and then there's the cost of using.

Obviously, the site on the far edge of town has significant related transportation costs, both for the city and for individual families.  I know that the district recently claimed few students currently walk or bike, but that's not desirable long term, and in any case given the inconvenience of driving students to a location few people otherwise visit, we can expect both an increase of time and gas costs for families (versus today), probable increase in car costs overall and traffic, and of course the cost of running bus lines to a location that de facto cannot be reached on foot or by bike, period.

I'd love to see an estimate that accounts for that.  I have enough of an open mind to accept there may be continuing costs at the Spalding site that are higher.  Perhaps it's easier to truck in food to the highway; perhaps it's more convenient for Mahomet based teachers; whatever.  Perhaps one might argue that having the lavish athletic fields imagined next to the school would save costs, though why we need more athletics is beyond me.   But in any case I'd love to see an estimate that goes beyond just construction, to consider what long term we'd be committing ourselves too.

On the face of it, the far northern site seem impracticable for many students and families, and costly in time and money in ways an in town location would not be.  Might the News Gazette write a story on that? Thanks! 

Champaign Guest wrote on June 24, 2014 at 11:06 pm

My experience with athletics is when Central's softball team plays at a field behind the Kirby Ave. grade school. While there's more parking on the west side, people tend to park first in the closer but smaller east-side lot, and things get creative/cramped quickly. I've seen multiple full size buses in that lot, the driveway dropped down to a single lane from people parking along it, people parked on the grass, etc.  

At the same time parents are trying to get in to pick up kids from the afterschool program, and kids from the neighboring apartments are playing on the blacktop next to the parking lot. It's an accident waiting to happen.

It wouldn't be a problem if the field was closer to the high school so that fewer people needed to travel to the games, or if the field had parking that was designed to handle large groups of people.

Athletic fields don't have to be "lavish", and simple bleachers can go a long way for a most sports, as long as you've got the space for the field itself.

 

45solte wrote on June 24, 2014 at 10:06 am

Stephanie Stuart, who are the 'community stakeholders'? The ones who attended the invite-only 'public' meetings? Unit 4 accusing somebody else of having an 'agenda' is sadly comical.  Stark is obviously messing up the Delphi-ing of the Interstate Drive site.


http://www.seanet.com/~barkonwd/school/CONTROL.HTM'...your comments won’t be on public record, and the predetermined outcome will then look like a unanimous decision.  They may even try to discredit you.  This technique is meant to bully people into submission.'


Alternative response?


'We are happy to receive the report Mr. Stark has submitted to us and look forward to reviewing it. As Board President Laurie Bonnett [Chief of Staff to Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign)] maintains, in reference to SROs, we must consider costs. It would appear that Mr. Stark's report raises some cost comparison issues concerning the Central siting decision before us, and, as such, has potential implications relevant to our deep commitment to the practice of responsible stewardship of property tax revenue. We have a duty to the property tax paying stakeholders in this community to take under serious consideration any potential cost-saving measures related to the Central siting issue (as opposed to discrediting them outright as 'political' before fully analyzing them, or something). Unit 4 remains committed to all, (not just to our internal agenda and/or to the people who we cherry-pick for invite-only 'public' meetings).  We continue to strive to a, b, c, so that all students can d, e, f (renew the acid rain crisis of the '80s, save grumpy kittens from youtube exploitation, achieve world peace, etc.)'

rsp wrote on June 24, 2014 at 10:06 am

I believe everything they have done so far has been aimed at manipulating the public to giving them what they want. Why else would they go out and buy 80 acres of property and hire people to start designing a school for that much money when they don't even have voter approval?

They don't care what the voter thinks. It's just a game to them of how to twist things around. The questions have become do you want the Spaulding site or the Interstate site. Think about that. You have been manipulated into accepting spending $100 million dollars. You skipped the whole discussion of is this the right thing to do.

Kathy S wrote on June 24, 2014 at 5:06 pm

It looks like the site drawings linked to with this article are quite different than the site drawings submitted by the Park District several weeks ago.  One particular difference is that this site design does not include using the mini park on the other side of the railroad tracks for parking, as the earlier ones did.  Maybe these differences account for some of the dramatically different costs?  I'd like to know why the district is using this different plan, which I don't like nearly as much.

Champaign Guest wrote on June 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

My impression is that any project involving property owned by a railroad is a drawn out affair.

Kathy S wrote on June 25, 2014 at 8:06 am

Does the railroad own some part of the proposed site?  I hadn't heard that anywhere.

Champaign Guest wrote on June 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

The railroad owns the tracks between the main site and the mini-park that had a parking lot in the plans you referenced.  The architect's idea was to connect them via a tunnel under the tracks. The tunnel would be on railroad property.

pattsi wrote on June 25, 2014 at 9:06 am

Another view expressed in today;s letters-to-the-editor worth considering.

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/letters-editor/2014-06-25/unit-4-sho...

michaelrunkle wrote on June 25, 2014 at 9:06 am

Mr. Sholem seems spot on; thank you for the link.  One consideration that I don't think has been discussed is how site selection will impact urban sprawl.  It seems that parts of the center of the city are rotting - and investment and growth are being pushed to the pereferies.  (McKinley & Bradley; 1st & Springfield...)  

Maintaining a healthy core seems critical.

sacrophyte wrote on June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

From a 2012 report presented to the Board on 12 June 2012 by Lisa
 De 
La 
Rue, 
M.A.
 Educational
 Psychology, 
University 
of 
Illinois 
Urbana‐Champaign.

http://www.boarddocs.com/il/champil/Board.nsf/files/8UZHXM4AA0C9/$file/CUSD%20School%20Configuration%20Report.pdf

 

"School 
Size 
Recommendations.

For 
elementary 
schools 
there
 is 
some 
evidence
 that 
smaller 
schools 
equal 
better 
achievement 
whereas
 in 
secondary 
schools,
 the
 results
 are
 inconsistent,
 but
 seem 
to 
favor 
small 
to 
midsize 
schools 
(Leithwood ,

&
 Jantzi,
 2009).
 It 
may 
not 
be 
school 
size 
per
se 
that
 contributes 
to
 positive
 achievement 
but 
the 
availability 
of 
capable
 staff. 
Multiple 
researchers 
have
 suggested 
that 
an 
enrollment
 size 
of 
600‐900 
is 
“ideal”
 (Lee
&
Smith,
1997).
 There 
is
 evidence
 of 
a
 learning 
advantage 
for 
students 
attending 
moderate
 size
 schools, 
and
 that
 learning 
is 
more
 equitable
 in
 small 
spaces.
 Some 
argue 
that 
achievement 
and
 equity
 are 
both 
best 
when 
high
schools 
have 
about 
600–900
 students,
but
 also
 state
that
 ideal 
size 
may
 depend, 
in 
part, 
on 
the 
outcome 
of
 interest
 (Lay,
2007).
 The 
600‐900
 student 
recommendation 
seems 
to 
fit 
most 
in line 
with
 academic 
achievement.


School size 
might 
benefit 
from 
being 
limited 
to 
300 
in
 elementary
 school, 
to
 600 
in
 secondary 
schools 
when 
the
 student 
populations 
are
 largely
 diverse
 and/or
 disadvantaged 
(Lee 
& 
Smith,
 1997).
 A
 moderate 
school 
size 
is 
good
 for 
low 
and 
high
 SES 
schools
 and 
for 
schools 
with 
low
 and 
high 
minority 
concentrations 
(Lee 
&
 Smith, 
1997). 
A 
moderate 
school 
size 
serves 
the 
needs 
of
 low 
SES 
students 
and
 minority
 students,
 while 
not 
compromising 
the 
learning
 environment 
for 
majority
 groups 
or 
higher 
SES 
students.

"

[note: formatting errors are my own - copying from the PDF was a pain]

sacrophyte wrote on June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

[duplicate]

pattsi wrote on June 27, 2014 at 10:06 am

Another letter-to-the-editor that might encourage more community conversations.

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/letters-editor/2014-06-27/many-will-...