School district wants Dodds land for Central

School district wants Dodds land for Central

The Champaign school district has formally requested the use of 60 acres at Dodds Park for a future Central High School site.

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The request came in a letter sent in early July by Superintendent Judy Wiegand to Park District Executive Director Joe DeLuce, which also says that Spalding Park is not a good fit for the new high school — because of its smaller size and the need to buy homes and commercial properties to make it work, among other factors. The News-Gazette obtained a copy of the letter on Friday.

The letter doesn't propose any terms for acquiring property at Dodds, but officials said Friday one idea floated by the park district is trading about 38 acres of soccer fields at Dodds for the 80 acres the school district purchased at Interstate Drive, with the idea that a new soccer complex could be built there.

DeLuce said Friday there's been no official response to the letter from the park board. He said park commissioners will probably discuss the issue at their meeting Wednesday evening, likely in closed session.

DeLuce said conversations about Dodds never included using the entire park for a new high school.

"If we looked at anything, that's what we'd look at," DeLuce said, referring to the soccer fields. "We would not want to give up the entire Dodds Park. We've got too much invested in those other areas," such as the baseball and softball fields, the Olympic tribute, the Laborers memorial and the gardens.

DeLuce said under state law, any intergovernmental land transfer requires a supermajority of the voting members, or four of the five park commissioners.

The board's position is still that "Dodds Park is not on the table at this time," DeLuce said. The park district is still awaiting a final decision from the school board on Spalding, he said.

If not the final word, Wiegand's letter was fairly blunt.

Spalding has less than half the acreage of the Interstate Drive site, meaning it would require a parking deck and a four-story building to fit everything on-site, the letter said.

It would also require the acquisition of more than 60 residential and commercial properties, the acquisition and demolition of Judah Christian School and storm-water improvements, the letter said.

Spalding site would cost "tens of millions of dollars" more to develop than the Interstate Drive site, as estimated by the district's architects, though others have said those figures are inflated.

"In keeping with the School District's goal of being responsible financial stewards, it will be very difficult for the Board of Education to commit to spending a premium eight-figure amount to deliver the exact same educational program," the letter said, given that the district has other major construction needs.

The surrounding neighborhood and rail lines near Spalding also would limit the school's long-range expansion possibilities, the letter argued.

And while the school district had hoped to preserve some of the park if the new school were built there, in response to neighborhood concerns, "it is clear that this will not be a possibility," Wiegand wrote.

"The School District is hesitant to shoehorn its educational program into a site with the numerous fundamental problems discussed here. Given the compromises and logistical challenges necessary to make the Spalding Park site a viable option, it is difficult to endorse the Spalding Park site as the best option for our community," Wiegand wrote.

"The School District understands the desire of some in our community to locate a new Central High School nearer to the center of the city. The School District searched for a property for many years that would help accomplish this objective. Unfortunately, the level of existing development surrounding Spalding Park and its relative size would make it exceedingly difficult to develop a high school site at this location.

"Simply put, while Spalding Park may be a good location, it is not a good site for a new Central High School," the letter concluded.

Citing the community's desire for an in-town location for the high school, Wiegand said Dodds offers a number of advantages, including proximity to Parkland for teacher collaborations, dual-credit courses, and college readiness and workforce development programs. Dodds would offer plenty of space for programs, parking and future expansion, and wouldn't require any demolition costs or the displacement of homes or businesses, the letter said.

"The School District views Dodds Park as a game-changing opportunity to provide the community, staff, and students with unprecedented collaborative and academic advantages that are unavailable at any other site. In addition, this option presents a worthwhile compromise for community members by offering a site that has the available space to implement the educational program while retaining many of the benefits of an infill site," the letter said.

It's also close to the school district's most densely populated neighborhood, Garden Hills.

"Siting a new Central High School at Dodds Park would be the most exciting, yet sensible option for our community. The School District is committed to engaging in discussions with the Park District on the potential relocation of Dodds Park and acknowledging the Dodds family name through recognition on the new campus," the letter said.

Wiegand was not available for comment Friday.

School district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart said the request is in the park district's hands.

"Throughout the process, the park district and school district have been open to finding ways to collaborate. We believe that same attitude of collaboration continues," she said.

"One of the considerations, certainly, is the wishes of the Dodds family and being respectful of that history," Stuart added.

Would 38 acres or so be workable for the new high school? The district has said it needs 47 acres for the school. Stuart said she didn't want to talk about specific acreage but said with "creative solutions" Dodds has enough space to hold the high school and amenities such as fields and parking. She said there have been "preliminary conversations" about sharing some facilities with the park district at that site, including the softball and baseball fields.

"It's hard to say at this point" whether a serious move toward Dodds would delay a vote on the high school bond issue past November, Stuart said.

The school board is still planning to consider a resolution at its Aug. 11 meeting to place a question for voters on the November election ballot, she said.

"At this point, our board is still moving toward possibly November," she said.

Comments

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bmwest wrote on July 19, 2014 at 8:07 am
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I mentioned this last weekend but I will ask again. Has anyone checked with Associated Transfer & Storage? Their warehouse at 2309 Bloomington Rd is on 62 acres just north of Dodds. They might be interested in the Interstate Drive land, although I have no clue how much rebuilding their facility there would cost. The existing warehouse foundation and utilities might be able to be repurposed for the high school. We could still share athletic facilities with Dodds, ideally with a road connecting the two across the tracks.

pattsi wrote on July 19, 2014 at 8:07 am

An outside the box suggestion. That said each site mentioned keeps moving north, north, north without thinking central, central, central. As I have previously mentioned the Bristol Park area offers may of the necessary key variables as does the 4 corners at the intersection of Neil and Bradley. Neither offer challenges to the housing, especially Bristol. And based on the comments in the 3rd to last paragraph of the article, the amount of acrage has significantly shifted to a much lower number.

rsp wrote on July 19, 2014 at 9:07 am

So this was their goal all along? If they only get 38 acres how do they think they will have room to expand? Push Parkland out? Spaulding was never seriously considered by this board. There was just a plan to see how high to overprice it there. Can't the new building Judah Christian built be added on to and just remove the old part to meet the needs there? Was that even looked at? That addition isn't that old, they just outgrew it.

I really don't have confidence in this school board to make the decision. I'd really like an outsider to evaluate it and to look at where education is going. We keep putting kids in alternative schools when the schools don't meet their needs but don't stop and think about maybe the school should change up front. Why should kids fail before we make the changes?

SaintClarence27 wrote on July 21, 2014 at 9:07 am

New suggestion: skyscraper. Gym, pool, parking, everything!

Ralph wrote on July 19, 2014 at 11:07 am

This is a good solution.  Not only is there educational value in locating Central near Parkland but the addition of the school district property on Interstate Drive would allow the Park District to develop a truely regional park that would be near amentities for visitors at tournaments.  The MTD also has lots of service already serving Parkland.

Governments working together can produce more than governments working independently.

kionae wrote on July 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

And what happens when Central needs more room?  They're just as landlocked at Dodds as they are at their current location.  Unless they plan to take over Parkland land, they're stuck.  It also lines up three high schools in a neat little row on the west side of town, with NOTHING actually central.  That means more bus congestion because all the kids without rides in the middle and on the east side of the district will have to be bussed over.

I'm of the opinion that Central should actually become two smaller schools in the northeast and southeast, rather than one mega-school.  That would actually better serve the community at large, and would require far less land.

shurstrike wrote on July 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Dodd's Park is a gem of the community.  Hundreds of soccer, baseball and softball games are held there every year.  Statewide baseball tournaments are held there.  Rocket launches, kite flying and about any other activity that needs open space happens there.  There really is NO OTHER PLACE in Champaign where this is possible.  And the school board offers 80 acres in an undesirable, out of the way location for this?  PUH LEASE!  Yeah, the dozens and dozens of families who use the park every week want to shuttle their kids through the biggest traffic headache in town  to that boondoggle of a site every week?

Face it, the board made a huge mistake purchasing that property and now wants to stick it to the community to fix it.  Not on my dime.

MSJ66 wrote on July 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm

They need to start all over. This school board has proven itself as incompetent and not up to the task at hand. I hope there are more logical people on the park board and they realize what a special park Dodds is and the amount of time and money it took get that park as it currently exists and they do not even entertain the idea of doing this. First they  "needed" 80 acres now they say they "need" 47 but can get by with 38?  Sounds to me like they have no clue what they need or want to do. Bottom line I hope the park board says no (glad it takes a super majority for this type of decision) and the voters vote NO if they get a referendum on the ballot. Someone previously posted that they can't or won't even put out hard numbers on how much property taxes will go up if a referendum were to pass. Given what I have seen out of this school board only a fool would vote on a tax increase of this size with more hard data and a better implementation of property purchases and site selections than what we have witnessed from this carnival of clowns.

Kremlin Watcher wrote on July 19, 2014 at 11:07 pm

At times like this I miss Arthur Culver. Now there was a Champaign school superintendent who know what he was doing!

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm
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Culver seemed to want all of our schools to be as far away from their students as possible.  He seemed very opposed to the concept of a neighborhood school.....the proposed Central site on Interstate Drive wouldn't have been nearly far enough out of town for him!

kionae wrote on July 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

The school distirct is behaving like a child throwing a temper tantrum.  They can't drum up support for their 80 acres up north, so they're making suggestions they know perfectly well the majority of voters aren't going to approve of.

Using Dodds Park is a terrible idea.  For one, people like it and people use it.  I don't think I've ever seen it empty.  For another, what happens in 10 years when Unit 4 decides that Central needs to expand farther?  Are they going to comandere Parkland land as well?

It's also just as poorly positioned as the north Champaign, location... only this time, it favors west Champaign (which is already served by Centennial, 2.4 miles almost directly south of Dodds Park, and St. Thomas More 2.6 miles due north.  The only thing "central" about the Dodds location is that it's right between two other high schools (both of which are in walking distance).

Hometownproud wrote on July 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Personally, I dont think we're giving this board enough credit. I've been following this situation for years and now that something is finally being done to build a new high school and improve our community, i'm dissapointed to see the community's lack of support.

1 of the most common arguments i've heard against building a new central is "It's not Central anymore". Please direct me to the perfect 50 plus acre field in the middle of town and tell me why it's not being used currently. The board has evaluated numerous sites, and DID choose the land on interstate drive, they did buy it, but that's because that is what they're elected to do. Their jobs were to find a sizable piece of land that met the certain criteria. If there is anyone to blame it's past school disticts for not land banking.

May I remind the community that when Centennial was 1st built it was also in the middle of no where, but now Centennial is technically more centrally located then Central.

To my knowledge, the spalding park site was brought to the board by the park district, the school board did not request it. The school board merely evaluated it just as it had done the other sites which is what they're elected to do.

I understand people's frustration and angst, but there is no solution that will please everyone. Dodds park has it's pros and it's cons. The school is next to the college, enabling dual credit courses, teacher collabs, and more. Then again the school is on the westside of town though, but to each their own.

The school board bought 80 acres not just for central, but to possibly build another school on the site as well. If dodds were to be chosen, you wouldnt need 80 or 47 but rather 38 because the school board wouldnt demolish all of dodds, and some of the baseball and soccer fields could be used by the high school, instead of making new ones.

in short, the board knows what they want. They want a new school for our kids, as there is need for one. They want to get the ballot passed somewhere because if the community keeps voting no it's not going to solve the current problem.

If Dodds were to become available i perosnally would support it, other wise the olympian drive site has my vote. Champaign is growing, and down the road those won't be cornfields forever.

Hometownproud wrote on July 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Personally, I dont think we're giving this board enough credit. I've been following this situation for years and now that something is finally being done to build a new high school and improve our community, i'm dissapointed to see the community's lack of support.

1 of the most common arguments i've heard against building a new central is "It's not Central anymore". Please direct me to the perfect 50 plus acre field in the middle of town and tell me why it's not being used currently. The board has evaluated numerous sites, and DID choose the land on interstate drive, they did buy it, but that's because that is what they're elected to do. Their jobs were to find a sizable piece of land that met the certain criteria. If there is anyone to blame it's past school disticts for not land banking.

May I remind the community that when Centennial was 1st built it was also in the middle of no where, but now Centennial is technically more centrally located then Central.

To my knowledge, the spalding park site was brought to the board by the park district, the school board did not request it. The school board merely evaluated it just as it had done the other sites which is what they're elected to do.

I understand people's frustration and angst, but there is no solution that will please everyone. Dodds park has it's pros and it's cons. The school is next to the college, enabling dual credit courses, teacher collabs, and more. Then again the school is on the westside of town though, but to each their own.

The school board bought 80 acres not just for central, but to possibly build another school on the site as well. If dodds were to be chosen, you wouldnt need 80 or 47 but rather 38 because the school board wouldnt demolish all of dodds, and some of the baseball and soccer fields could be used by the high school, instead of making new ones.

in short, the board knows what they want. They want a new school for our kids, as there is need for one. They want to get the ballot passed somewhere because if the community keeps voting no it's not going to solve the current problem.

If Dodds were to become available i perosnally would support it, other wise the olympian drive site has my vote. Champaign is growing, and down the road those won't be cornfields forever.

SaintClarence27 wrote on July 25, 2014 at 10:07 am

Your point about added resources and dual credit/college classes is a good one (and one I've not heard); however, it still means that the vast majority of the city will have to be bussed significant distances to get to high school. The two school sites are just too close together.