New Central High School: It's back to Interstate Drive

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.”


Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Education
Tags (1):2014 election

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm
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Who's surprised?




Who's in favor?




That push poll was a nice touch, though. The illuminati can now claim they had public support.

Gyaku67 wrote on July 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I'm in favor. Given the 3 options, this is clearly the most reasonable. Unless you can find a few dozen acres smack in the middle of Champaign. Good luck with that.


Kathy S wrote on July 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I'm so frustrated with this whole situation.  It's quite clear that a large number of people in this community don't want a new "Central" high school to be that far north, and the school district seems totally indifferent to our concerns.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm
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So, do they have a solid backup plan in place for when the referendum for this site gets overwhelmingly defeated at the polls?

TheChiefLives wrote on July 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Not like I have a horse in this fight.  I don't live in Champaign anymore, but as a Central grad who grew up near the High School, I must ask the obvious...

How does it make ANY sense to put the school somewhere that NOBODY can walk to?  How much is it going to cost Unit 4 (the taxpayers, iow) to buy 50 more buses and hire more drivers? 

You are now making it so EVERYONE has to drive, get a ride, or take the bus.  That's just plain stupid.  I'll bet that better than a quarter of the kids at the current location WALK or ride a bike to school everyday.

There are dozens of other BIG issues with the proposed location, but this was the issue that I thought would get this proposal laughed off the table in the very beginning of the search.

Jam wrote on July 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

This is a very bad idea!!

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 24, 2014 at 6:07 pm
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The core problem with this site, and the core reason why I expect it to fail miserably at the ballot box, is that it's hard to think of any site within the community that is farther away from most of the population than this one is.

If there is truly no "central" location within the city that is feasible, and if a school on the edge of town is the only feasible option, as Unit 4 claims, then why not put it somewhere on the west or south side of town instead?  There is obviously way more housing growth in those areas than there is on the north end of town.

Building a high school right next to Market Place Mall is also an absurd idea.  Do they want students to skip class, or what?

As for all this blathering about how we need massive amounts of athletic would seem to me that Unit 4 is extremely envious over the athletic megacomplex next to the interstate in Bloomington, and they want something like that here so they can wave it in other school district's faces and say, "look what we did!"  On a smaller scale, I would imagine the folks at Central are itching to one-up Centennial as well.  After all, they have had to share a football field with their "rival" all these years.  Oh, the horror!

At this rate, it's hard to imagine any of the school board members winning re-election when their current terms are up.  Maybe there is a sizable portion of voters who approve of the way this whole situation has been handled, but I haven't met any of them.

just_wondering wrote on July 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm

This is very entertaining! 

Keep the comments flowing!

Leadership, and respect for leadership, has been completely lost. The era of "everyone gets a trophy" is biting us in the backside. 

Leadership is hard. Decision-making is painful. Not everyone wins (what?!?!?! but I always did!)

If you even have children that will go to a Champaign high school, this is but 4 years per child of your life. Leaders must look at decades of impact.

Suck it up buttercup! Not everyone gets a trophy.


Gyaku67 wrote on July 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Lol. Yes. Well said. We are getting a new, modern high school with all the necessary pieces, including parking and sports facilities. Some people just can't be happy. I'm happy though. I think this will pass quite easily, as it should.


Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on July 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm



90 acres of land

Centrally located

Off major roads with good access

Within view of Savoy and the North side of University.

Mature trees welcome



The Champaign Country Club fits the bill.................


go for it!



SaintClarence27 wrote on July 31, 2014 at 9:07 am

Yeah, just pony up an extra 50mil for the land.

If they're going to do that, why not just take the Spalding site and buy out the properties needed?

Gyaku67 wrote on July 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I think the Interstate Drive location is the best choice. Dodds Park is out because the Park District won't allow it, and I have to agree with them on that decision. It's a beautiful open park with walking paths, soccer fields, and baseball/softball fields. Really nice. Spalding Park is, in my opinion, a very bad choice. It's not big enough. Would cost too much and would require the city to buy houses which is just an added complication. Also, no room to expand or "breath".

Interstate Drive is a blank canvas, plenty of room to have everything a school could possibly need, and more. And it's on the edge of a fast growing area.

People: Champaign is not that big. Don't get hung up on the name, "Central". North Champaign is what, a whole 4 miles from south Champaign? Also, we're not living in 1957. It's 2014 and who walks to school anymore?! Haha. Kids either drive, get a ride with parents, friends, or siblings who do drive, or ride bikes. The majority of kids don't walk 10 miles to school through snow and rain. You act like Interstate Drive is like building a school 50 miles away.

Decision making is tough but this is the right decision. There is no consipiracy guys. This isn't a outragiously terrible decision. It simply makes sense given the options.


Hometownproud wrote on July 28, 2014 at 11:07 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.