Updated: Survey shows more support for north site than Spalding
A Champaign school district poll of 400 likely voters showed nearly half prefer a site north of Market Place Mall for a new Central High School.
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And roughly half of the voters — depending on the amount — said they'd support a tax increase to pay for the project, if it was in their preferred location.
Here's the report from the survey firm.
In the 10-minute telephone survey conducted by the Kansas firm Patron Insight, 49 percent preferred the site at Neil Street and Interstate Drive and 38 percent favored a site that now includes Spalding Park and Judah Christian School.
A sizable percentage — 14 percent — said they didn't know which site they preferred. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Patron Insight initially conducted the survey over two weeks in late May, but district officials asked that it be extended and refined.
A "work in progress" report from that initial round found stronger support for the Spalding Park option — 42 percent vs. about 25 percent for various proposals using the Interstate Drive site.
But that poll included more complex questions that combined the Central High School project with proposals to replace Dr. Howard Elementary School and other projects, and officials felt the results weren't clear.
Factors influencing voters choices in the final poll? Cost, space, ease of construction and transportation concerns.
Respondents were asked to share a reason for their preference, or what information they'd need to make a choice.
Those who chose the Interstate Drive site said it would be "less expensive" (63 people), had "lots of room for facilities and growth" (41 people) and would allow construction to begin immediately (35 people).
Those who favored Spalding Park liked the fact that it was "centrally located" (82 people) and said it would require less busing because it's "closer to where the students are" (35 people).
Of those who didn't name a preference, 22 said they didn't like either location and 19 said they wanted just one high school.
"While each group has some compelling reasons for its preferences, statistically speaking, the Interstate Drive/Neil Street group has the meaningful edge," said a report prepared by Patron for Monday night's school board meeting.
An earlier poll of faculty and staff showed employees favored the Interstate Drive site by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin.
The public poll presented voters with three tax-increase scenarios to pay for the new high school:
— 47 percent said they would favor or strongly favor a tax increase of $160.58 annually per $100,000 of assessed value if the school were built in their preferred location.
— 52 percent said they would support a $128.47 tax increase, with the same stipulation.
— 56 percent said they would support a $96.35 tax increase, with the same stipulation.
District spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said those increases would generate $150 million, $120 million or $90 million for the school district, respectively.
Cost estimates for the new school have ranged from $80 million when the Interstate Drive site was originally proposed to $125 million for the Spalding site. Officials have said it would cost about $19 million to replace Dr. Howard.
The earlier poll had asked voters about tax increases from $195 to $279 annually per $100,000 assessed home value.
Respondents in the final poll were 400 randomly selected head-of-household registered voters in the Champaign school district. They included 194 people who had voted in the past three November elections (2012, 2010 and 2008); the rest had voted in one or two.
The question wording
Here's how the question about the future site of Central High School was posed to phone survey respondents:
"As you may know, the school district is evaluating options to build a new Central High School in a new location. (Descriptions were rotated — meaning approximately half heard one first, while half heard the other one first — and the two descriptions were connected with 'The other location ...')
"One location being considered is located northeast of Interstate Drive and Neil Street. This location costs 5 and one-half million dollars for the land. It would be a large enough property to allow for the immediate construction of a comprehensive, 21st century school, with space for trade skill programming, band and athletic facilities, and with room to grow, as needed. This site is located on the perimeter of the city.
"One location being considered is located at Spalding Park, meaning it would be closer to the center of Champaign. If the high school was located here, it would be a multi-story, micro-urban campus. This location costs 25 million dollars for the land. It would require phasing in over time and the acquisition of homes to provide enough space.
"As you think about it today, which location would you prefer for the new Central High School, the Interstate Drive and Neil Street location, or the Spalding Park location?" (Descriptions were re-read, if requested.)