New Central High School: It's back to Interstate Drive
CHAMPAIGN — School officials say they will likely move forward with plans to build a new Central High School on the northern edge of Champaign, now that Dodds Park is definitively not an option.
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The Champaign Park District today gave a thumbs-down to the idea of using part of its signature park for a new Central High School, a request made by the Champaign school district earlier this month.
Both Superintendent Judy Wiegand and school board President Laurie Bonnett said it’s all but certain that the district will return to the site it announced almost six months ago, 80 acres of undeveloped farmland at Neil Street and Interstate Drive.
The school board also considered using Spalding Park, at the park district’s request, but concluded it was too small and would be too costly because of the need to acquire property, among other factors.
“Interstate Drive has always been the place that we originally selected, but then we took a step back to investigate Spalding, as we were asked to do. Now we’re going to move forward as we had originally planned, with Interstate,” Bonnett said Thursday.
The school district had formally requested the use of 60 acres at Dodds Park in a July 7 letter from Superintendent Judy Wiegand to Park District Executive Director Joe DeLuce.
The park board discussed the request in closed session Wednesday night and reaffirmed its position that Dodds Park isn’t on the table, said park board President Joe Petry.
“It’s a wonderful park. It’s one of our signature parks,” Petry said Thursday. “It’s a valuable asset to the community. We just can’t imagine making any significant adjustments to that.”
Wiegand said DeLuce called her with the news Thursday morning, and she was disappointed but not surprised.
“I knew that they had some significant concerns about allowing the district to use Dodds for a new high school,” she said. “I can respect their decision.”
The developments mean the district will forge ahead with a question on the November election ballot, asking voters to approve a bond issue to finance the new high school and renovations at Centennial High School.
Wiegand said the exact amount of the bond issue hasn’t been decided, though architects have estimated the cost of the new Central at $80 million and the Centennial renovations at $40 million.
On Monday night, the school board will review a timeline and costs for all the projects on its master facilities plan, including the work at Central and Centennial, replacing Dr. Howard Elementary School, renovating South Side Elemetnary School, “repurposing” the current Central High School and renovating or replacing Edison Middle School.
The only project that could be in play for the November ballot is Dr. Howard, previously estimated at about $18 million.
Wiegand said the board may review some draft language for the referendum question Monday night. Final action is scheduled for the Aug. 11 board meeting.
All this comes as the school district is still awaiting a study on the long-term costs involved in the Spalding and Interstate sites, which was due at the end of the month. Wiegand said the study’s authors can’t make the July 28 board meeting, so she has requested a written report instead.
“It would have to really contain some significant information to make a change at this point,” Wiegand said.
Bonnett concurred, noting that architects estimated that the cost of building at Spalding could be $40 to $45 million higher than the Interstate Drive site — though others say those figures are exaggerated.
“It’s really going to have to be compelling in order for us to go to the taxpayers to ask them to pay for more than Interstate,” Bonnett said. “I’m not saying no, I’m just saying it’s going to have to be very compelling.”