Interstate Central site could be costly

Interstate Central site could be costly

The price tag for a new Central High School north of Champaign is estimated at $98 million, but a new draft report estimates the long-term cost to the community could be far more — nearly $140 million in lost property tax revenue and added maintenance, transportation, environmental and health costs.

The school district's chosen site on Neil Street between Interstate and Olympian drives would be five times more expensive over the next 30 years than the alternative location considered this spring at Spalding Park, with its $21 million in long-term costs, the study says.

Why? The Interstate Drive site is farther from most students and harder to walk to, which means more students driving or taking the bus to school, the study says. And that means higher transportation costs for families and the school district, more auto emissions, and possible long-term health consequences for students. It also would take 80 acres of prime farmland — half already owned by a private developer — off the tax rolls, compared to less than 10 acres at Spalding.

Here is a copy of the draft report. It is a 74-page pdf file.

The cost-benefit analysis was prepared by University of Illinois urban planning Professor Brian Deal at the request of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and several other governmental bodies as the school district was evaluating the two sites.

It's still a draft, and school officials have questions about some of the assumptions and cost figures. For instance, it doesn't provide any numbers about the construction and development costs for the two sites, said school board attorney Tom Lockman. The district's architects said Spalding would cost up to $25 million more up front.

And the biggest number is nearly $60 million in health costs because fewer students would be able to walk to school, contributing to obesity and long-term chronic disease. Those "theoretical" calculations may not mesh with reality, Lockman said, citing the district's survey showing only 10 percent of students walk to school now.

"I don't think it's complete," said Superintendent Judy Wiegand.

Representatives of the city, school district, MTD, Champaign park district and Champaign County Regional Planning Commission hope to meet in the next couple of weeks to discuss the report, said Karl Gnadt, the MTD's managing director.

Schools and sprawl

The report takes issue with the large amount of land required for schools in recent years. It said standards for school sites developed in the post-war boom times of the 1950s have remained relatively unchanged, pushing schools to the urban fringe where land is more readily available, thus contributing to urban sprawl. In less robust economic times, "it can cause the abandonment of schools already well integrated into existing neighborhoods and contribute to the degradation of the urban core."

Among other impacts, the report said, the Interstate site will likely fuel sprawl by attracting new development based on student and staff demand, possibly raising farmland prices sooner than expected and raising development costs in that area.

Property tax loss

The study used conservative growth and inflation rates to calculate how much development could have been generated on land the school district purchased at Interstate and Neil. It assumed most of the 80 acres would go toward residential development (331 houses) and five acres to light commercial development.

Based on the nearby Ashland Park subdivision, with the average house valued at about $140,000, and a 10-year buildout, it estimates that the property could have generated almost $6 million in property taxes for the first 10 years, and a total of $48.5 million over 30 years.

Of that, the school district would lose about $25 million in future taxes, the city would lose $8 million, Champaign County $5 million, Champaign Park District $4.5 million, Parkland College $3 million, and the MTD $1.9 million.

Development planned for that site could be built elsewhere in the city, but it might still be a net tax loss overall, especially if it ends up outside school district boundaries, the report said. It also could wind up on under-utilized land, which would offset some of the loss, the report said.

For the Spalding site, the first phase would be mostly on public lands, with property acquisitions made over time. The property tax loss is estimated at $955,000 over 30 years, including $500,000 from the school district.

The study also projects that housing values could rise at the Interstate site with the addition of a school and drop at Spalding because of the loss of the public park.

The net property tax loss over 30 years: $46.6 million for Interstate, $4.2 million at Spalding.

Operations and maintenance

The study assumed the same square footage (365,175) and identical construction methods for the two schools, a two-story structure for the Interstate site and a four-story building at Spalding (given the smaller site).

Over time, it says, maintenance costs would total $1.4 million for Spalding and $2.8 million for Interstate Drive. Roof replacement costs are cited as an example, with a larger roof required on the two-story building that would be more expensive to replace. But school officials said the assumptions were too simplistic, and many other factors go into maintenance costs that weren't included.


The school district is required by law to provide transportation for students who live more than 1.5 miles from a school. Those students can use dedicated MTD routes to Central or bus passes on other general routes. And a smaller number, about 10 percent, who live in distant areas are transported on school district buses.

The current Central location in its densely populated area provides "a wealth of school commute choices," the study said, including walking, biking, car or bus routes.

Spalding would be similar, with 45 percent of students falling within 1.5 miles of the high school, and 44.8 percent within the MTD bus zone. About 10 percent would need school bus transportation, the report said. The study used an analysis prepared by Holly Nelson, a UI doctoral student who wrote a 2012 report on transportation implications of the various school sites under study.

"The Olympian site differs considerably due to its fringe location and isolation from the majority of the student body," the report said.

Almost all students would qualify for bus service to the new high school, leading to a doubling of busing costs to $700,000 annually. The MTD would have to extend one of its routes to Interstate Drive, at a cost of $340,000 annually, and add five other buses with an operating cost of $360,000 annually. The school district now pays the MTD $315,516 annually to bus students to and from Central.

The estimated cost to buy the new buses is $4.2 million, though officials have said a large chunk of that could be offset by federal grants. Wiegand also said the district plans to revamp the Central and Centennial boundaries once the new school is built, which could reduce some transportation costs.

Although the number of students driving would drop slightly with the Interstate Drive site, the number of miles traveled would almost double, increasing transit costs for students and families by $500 to $1,300 a year, the study said. The increase at Spalding would be $14 to $31 per year.

The site presents many barriers to walking and biking, with few existing sidewalks or bike paths and students having to cross Interstate 74, the report said. Spalding, by contrast, is already connected to the city's network of bike and walking paths.

Will it make a difference?

Just what impact the study will have on the Central High project is unclear. The school district said in late July that it was moving ahead with the Interstate site, and on Aug. 11 approved a question for the Nov. 4 election asking voters to approve a $149 million bond issue for the new school as well as improvements to Centennial High School and other projects.

Wiegand said the district plans to address the transportation challenges and "try to be creative," making sure that "we aren't isolating any student or parent population when we redistrict."

She said the various governmental units had agreed to come together and discuss the draft report and the assumptions made before it went public.

"That opportunity wasn't honored. That was a piece that's been disappointing for me," she said. "But moving forward, is there that opportunity to continue those types of conversations? I would hope so."

Deal said he met with school officials before the board's July 28 meeting and laid out the study's preliminary results. They said they wanted to clarify some questions and concerns about the report, Deal said, but he never heard back from them. In fact, he said, he never got any data that he requested from the school district for the report.

"They knew what we were going to say. We laid it out for them," he said. "They went and voted on their referendum without the discussion, without the conversation.

"The idea behind it is to get agencies to cooperate on things that affect all of them," he said. "The point wasn't to criticize their decisions, but to point out a way of decision-making that would improve their decisions. They chose to ignore it."

Deal doesn't expect it to influence the district's decision on Central and doesn't know what impact it will have on voters in November.

"They've now thrown it into the public realm. It's going to play out in the public realm, I guess. I hope it has an impact on the way we view things and the way decisions are made," he said.

Long-term school costs

The study led by UI Professor Brian Deal compared the long-term costs associated with a new Central High School at Spalding Park versus at Interstate Drive. The numbers include a projected loss of property tax income from converting private land to public use; operating, maintenance and energy costs for the four-story versus two-story buildings; extra transportation costs for parents and the district; and related health and pollution costs associated with driving or busing students to the schools.

  Spalding Interstate
Taxes $4.2 million $46.59 million
O&M costs $1.39 million $2.78 million
Transportation $780,000 $21.48 million
Additional pollution $30,000 $300,000
Health cost $5.74 million $59.23 million
Energy cost $8.94 million $9.18 million
Total $21.08 million $139.56 million

Source: "Cost Benefit Analysis of the New Champaign Central High School: The Economic, Environmental, Energy and Public Health Dimensions of a New High School in Champaign, Draft Version," Aug. 2, 2014.

Sections (2):News, Local

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
pattsi wrote on August 20, 2014 at 7:08 am

Even though this is a draft document, the externalities associated with moving Central to the fringes have a chance of becoming part of the public discourse to support or not the November referendum of $150 M.

LocalOutsider wrote on August 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

Pattsi, you continue to disappoint blabbering your 'forgetful' knowledge of how draft documents work. I thought you were a county board member? When governmental agencies agree to study something, they either have a 'gentleman's' agreement or a written document. Isn't that how it is suppose to work? It seems that this Deal guy has respected neither, nor has the MTD's new managing director if you read the report. But that would be too much for your feeble mind to absorb. As well as Deal has done his private work on University of Illinois' time, used UI resources and presents this as a know all end all. I'd like to see the District respond to the report. And for those of you only getting information from one source, shame on you. For the local paper to only report one side is unbalanced and sensationalism. Anymore it's like the TMZ of papers.  Oh right .... and nobody still considers your suggestion of the area by Columbia a good idea. It all makes sense now ... nobody took you seriously then either.

Lostinspace wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 am

Good heavens! What a rant in response to a straightforward, non-controversial post.  I hope you are being ironic.

rsp wrote on August 20, 2014 at 11:08 am

Maybe you should try and read the article, where the school board has refused to work with anyone that might rain on their parade. And how would you know when the work was done? Talk about sensationalism and namecalling! What, if the school board withholds comment and information the draft is a secret? About a public body?

787 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

Let's buy the land first, and then figure out all of the additional costs and unforseen details later....

Does this superintendent and school board need to hire some competent consultants, who know what they're doing? This whole deal has been bungled from the beginning.

Squirrel wrote on August 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

I suspect the same general comments were made about Centennial when it was constructed. Go to the County's GIS website and see what that area looked like in 1973.

Keep in mind that 1973 aerial shot was 5 - 6 years after the school was built on the edge of town. Step through the decades and watch the area around Centennial build up.

While one could debate the wisdom of two high schools or the need for athletics in education, for instance, the fact that these areas "on the edge of town" will eventually be "in town" seems pretty obvious if history is our guide.

OldIlliniFan wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 am

First, this is a $149M bond issue, with $84M interest.  So it's really a $233M bond issue.

The Spalding site is $25M more expensive, plus $14M more interest.  So add $39M to the Spalding site.

The interstate land is already purchased, so why not assume the property tax revenue is already lost for both sites?

Why not assume that half the students car pool, saving $10M in transportation?

As long as we're making assumptions, why not assume that the students get off the bus a mile from school and walk, thereby saving $59M in health cost, plus several $M in energy cost?

The bond repayment is 20 years, but the tax loss is based on 30 years.  Why not base the losses on 20 years, or 40 years?

My point is that one can make the numbers come out any way one wishes, by ignoring some costs and making unrealistic assumptions on others.

Squirrel wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 am

OIF, totally agree with your observation that the numbers can be pencil-whipped to "prove" anything. Another matter could be the potential bias of the authors of this "study". Isn't Brian Deal some kind of green guru? If this is the fellow I think it is he is /was quite active in the world of green development and would be predisposed against the Interstate site as an urban encroachment into a "rural" area.

A little homework by the News Gazette is in order here. Just because this fellow is a "professor" doesn't mean he is unbiased.

Champaignite wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 am

Just to clarify, 1973 was not 5-6 years after Centennial was built.  Centennial was actually opened in 1963, but wasn't its own school until 1967.  Prior to that, it was part of Champaign High School, which no longer exists when the two campuses were split into two separate high schools, Central and Centennial.  By the time Centennial was being built, there was already a junior high (now Jefferson Middle School) next door for a few years (1959, I think) and the neighborhood east of Centennial Park was already built and Holiday Park to the west was already in the midst of being built as well.  Not arguing for or against the site, but merely stating that using Centennial as a guide of what may happen to the Interstate Drive site is not exactly comparing apples to apples as the area around Centennial was already further along in being developed and established prior to the construction of Centennial.   

rsp wrote on August 20, 2014 at 11:08 am

I lived in Holiday Park with Kenwood Grade School in my back yard. Not exactly a cornfield. The whole area was a planned development. It wasn't putting a school on the edge of town as the board is talking now. It was putting the school in the center of planning with a park next to it. It was all done together to benefit and draw people. That was 1965 for those of you keeping score.

mstook423 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 11:08 am

It appears this report was produced with a pre-conceived agenda.  A majority of the additional costs come from the health cost and lost tax revenue.  The health cost is a ridiculous number used in order to meet the agenda that he had when the study was commissioned. 

Also, any land that is used for a school with the exception of Spaulding Park or other land that is already used by a governmental entity, would be removed from the tax rolls.  The comparison to Ashland Park as a basis is not conservative as I believe these homes are closer together than allowed in most subdivisions. 

I wonder how much we spent for this biased report commissioned by a government entity that should only care about how it affects the bus/transportation system not all of the other biased nonsense in the report. 


Kathy S wrote on August 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Why do you say the health cost is a ridiculous number?  The CDC recently estimated that 40% of Americans will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives--this is an extremely expensive disease, and one of the main risk factors is a sedentary lifestyle.  Where we build the new school will make a huge difference in the amount of activity in the lives of many of these students.  Why shouldn't we try to quantify that?

mstook423 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 7:08 pm

You really believe that the location of a high school will impact a students' probability of getting type 2 diabetes (which is not a teen disease) or whether they are overweight??  You also believe that the cost related to health because of the location of a school that will serve 1700 students is $60,000,000?

It is hard for me to believe that this cost is credible!


Kathy S wrote on August 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Type 2 diabetes used to be called "adult onset diabetes", but now more and more teens are getting it, and inactivity is a big part of the reason.  I don't think kids are lazier than they used to be, but I do think cities' infrastructure is a big part of the problem--it's just harder to walk and bike when there's more traffic and narrow sidewalks.  Putting a school so far away from the students who attend will only make things more difficult.  

You may be right that the figure given in the report is not credible, but it's worth talking about.  The monetary effects of lifelong obesity are real, and much of the costs are borne by society.

illinikjw wrote on August 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm

And in other breaking news today, water is wet.

The Unit 4 School Board doesn't care about the costs and benefits to a more centralized school site; they made up their mind to build on Interstate Drive months ago and nothing will change that. 

As much as I want to support the school children of Champaign, I will be voting a big fat "NO" on this referendum. Hopefully if enough of us do that, it will force them to actually *listen* to the consultants and citizens.

Kathy S wrote on August 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I'm very disappointed that the board didn't want to make this public before going ahead with their referendum.  It only adds to the mistrust some of us have for the board, and the perception that they don't care to even discuss issues of sustainability and walkability.

good citizen wrote on August 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm

How very irresponsible for the News Gazette to post a report that is little more than propaganda paid for by a small group of people that are opposed to Champaign Schools.  The truth is the Park District only put Spaulding on the table after the Schools had purchased the land in North Champaign.  The Park District then pulled the offer back off the table.  I wonder what Joe Petry is thinking....oh yeah now I remember he's running for mayor.  Make the schools look bad to make yourself look good?  Sounds like politics as usual.  The truth is our kids are desperate for this school.  Our community needs it.  A flagship highschool can only help our economy in the long run.  Please stop playing politics with our childrens future.    

Mike Howie wrote on August 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Profile Picture

Thanks for the note. Just fyi: We wrote about this report earlier as it was underway and wrote then that the professor here was doing this work for free. Here's a link to that story:

Mike Howie

online editor

mstook423 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 7:08 pm

He must be doing it for free to further his own agenda which does not appear to be to well hidden with the ridiculous costs used in this report.

bambenek wrote on August 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm

When the board had a public presentation about doing this report, the commitment they made was to report back to us July 28th.  They missed that deadline.  We asked for August 11th, they missed that one too.  Even now, the report is in draft form.

You can watch the meeting where this was discussed here:


Kathy S wrote on August 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for commenting on this.  Can you help me out & tell me approximately where to look for the discussion in this video?  The link is to the July 14 meeting, but I can't find it in the minutes of that meeting about the study.

From the article, it looks like a preliminary report was made to the board on July 28th:

"Deal said he met with school officials before the board's July 28 meeting and laid out the study's preliminary results. They said they wanted to clarify some questions and concerns about the report, Deal said, but he never heard back from them. In fact, he said, he never got any data that he requested from the school district for the report."

I was at that meeting, and I assume that the board was discussing that report in executive session, and that was why the executive session took so much longer than originally scheduled.  I would really have liked to see the study at that point, or else have the board publicly state that they were going back over the assumptions and numbers. I'm not sure why it would be bad for the public to have seen the data even if the board disagreed with it.  I'd prefer to hear both sides of the argument and be able to make up my own mind. 

bambenek wrote on August 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I apologize, original discussion was June 30:

2 hours 9 minutes in.

If that report was given in closed session, I must have missed it (and it would be an OMA violation).  I don't recall the specific reason that closed session went long.

The first I saw this report was when I was sent to me in e-mail on 8/13... AFTER it was sent to other non-government personnel and likely to the News-Gazette.  So, in short, I wasn't even in a position to comment on it by August 11th becuase I hadn't seen it.  We did discuss the MTD cost increase because that was leaked to the News-Gazette also before the board discussed it or so the data backing up the figures we were given.

Now it's possible by school officials he means the administration but I know I haven't seen this report until very recently.

Kathy S wrote on August 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Hmmm.  If he did as he claims, then I would love to know which school officials he discussed it with, and which ones didn't give him the data he asked for or report to the board members that they'd seen it.

And no meeting minutes are up for June 30, so I guess I'll have to watch the video.  Thanks for the correction.

bambenek wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Well, so far, I've been told by staff we had nothing.  And we asked.  They also have no idea what information we were asked to provide and failed to do so.

And looking back on my notes, that long closed session at start of meeting was due to a student discipline matter and that was the only matter discussed.

pattsi wrote on August 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

John, the stated fact that you did not have access in any manner to a report about Unit 4 business as a BOE member ought to raise dozens of red flags for you and help explain why the public so often expresses a lack of trust for administration and board.

bambenek wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 pm


In fact, it did raise red flags.  Why an outside entity committed to giving us a report by July 28th (knowing our deadline) and then failed to deliver is concerning about the professionalism of those involved.  When they missed August 11th, it only doubled down on those concerns.

After having spoken to the Superintendent, she did not have any report either.  So it wasn't like the administration didn't give me information, those who produced this report and dumped it to the media before the board were the ones not entirely forthcoming.

The other red flag that was raised was one of the individuals involved with this report, based on solid information from a reliable source, is running for the school board himself in April, made me question this all the more.

And that's before even touching upon the other aspects of this report.

Since the individuals involved decided to leak this to the press instead of presenting it in a board meeting as they had originally committed to, the public very much has been deprived of the discussion of the points raised in this report.

Kathy R. wrote on August 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

The allegations in this article are serious. I don't much care who missed what deadline between the school board and the authors of this report; such excuses are the 21st-century version of "the dog ate my homework." If this report has been discussed at a public meeting as long ago as June 30, as John Bambanek states above, the failure of the board to pursue even preliminary information before putting a resolution on the ballot is staggering. And if the board refused to provide information requested by the authors, that's even more ridiculous. Why do they not seem to value what an urban planner has to say?

bambenek wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Kathy R. -

I think you misunderstand my meaning.  No one in Unit 4 had preliminary information, we asked, we didn't get it.

The discussion of the report on June 30th was doing it (not what the report entailed).  The only preliminary information we were given was the increase in cost for MTD services which were leaked to the press before being brought to us.

If you'd like to discuss further, feel free to email me.

SaintClarence27 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Can someone please explain to me why Bristol Park is not the obvious solution, railroad tracks or not? Just build a viaduct.

welive wrote on August 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm

with the new 98 million price tag can we please get hight school graduates that have  can

Count back money, have common sence ,know who the first 5 presidents were.

Uh.list list will go on

alabaster jones 71 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm
Profile Picture

I have can want hight school students read and write real well good and count monies good also too

cjwinla wrote on August 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

I don't think I have ever read a more croc of pontification . $53MM for health related costs and less than 15% of the current students walk to school now. But lets deal in real world, it's going to be 93 degrees in Champaign tomorrow . Why don't the people go to Central and sit in a 100 degree classroom and see if you can focus on the class work. Spalding is not even a realistic option. The residents don't want it and the use of emminent domain would be needed. I've heard  lot of pie in the sky alternatives lately. The idea from Charles Schultz on Sunday for 2 small high schools with the two current ones was about the most laughable non workable idea I've seen in awhile. My first queation was show me one place in America who has a school system built like that... cause there are none and I know we dont want to be a guinea pig on an unproven model.

Fortunately the good people of Champaign I believe will understand the value of a modern high tech High School about 3 miles from the  current school and can see though biased and unsubstantiated reports as the one described in this article. 

On another note, the people who espouse concern for low income students being able to get to school are the most sickening. They have no clue what these kids want. No contact with their every day life at all. They want a modern learning facility with high tech capabilities. They ride the bus now and they will ride the  bus then. 

What people don't realize is that wealthy developers don't want the school at Interstate because with the Olympian Drive extension money is to be made in tht area and a school interferes with that plan. 

I would just hope the next time someone comes up with a crazy idea like Charles schultz wrote on Sunday, will you please point to one place similar to Champaign where that pie in the sky stuff is actually working in the real world. 

One thing I do know, there is a lot if armchair critics who like to talk smack about the Board and Administration without offering any workble alternatives or getting into the mix and actually running for a seat on the Board. 

Champaign deserves better the best educational facilities and if $20 a month in taxes more is too much for you ..... Then please keep drinking the  News Gazette kool aid. 


alabaster jones 71 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm
Profile Picture

Which school board member are you?

rsp wrote on August 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm

You mean the low income kids the school is failing to teach? The ones who, you say ride the bus now and would ride it then? Which means that if they play sports at that shiny new school way out there they would have to walk home, just like my kids did when the played sports at Central. Because those bus rides after school are only good right after school, not when sports and other extra things are done. No staying after for help unless you want to walk home.

Maybe if you talked to more of the people around Spaulding you would know that a lot of the people there supported the school being built there. It wouldn't take eminent domain either, just giving people time.

I have a feeling we live on different sides of town, when you accuse people of not knowing what low income kids want. I remember sending my kids to school while we were homeless. Getting food from the food bank. I think most kids are more worried about basic things, like roofs over their heads, safety, food, than having the "best school facilities" in the country so we can bankrupt ourselves. 55% of the district's kids are low income.

This whole thing was done backwards, not starting with what kind of education do kids need.

MSJ66 wrote on August 20, 2014 at 10:08 pm

At this point I could care less about any articles from the News Gazette or any reports from the school board or administration. This whole process was a disaster and they need to start over. My wife and I will be voting resounding NO on the referendum no matter what they say or do at this point. Zero confidence or trust from any of the mouth pieces from the district or the school board. I'm saying 68% NO  32% YES results on the referendum. You can't ask for that kind of money from tax payers then totally screw up the whole thing like they have done

jhilding wrote on August 20, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Why is it so difficult to understand this needs to get done?  Of all the people screaming "I vote no!" How many of you have children in the school system currently?  I have 2 children in Central and a 4th grader and I every time I walk into that outdated piece of garbage school I wonder just where the tax money goes now. Despite what so many say, sports are important.  Band is important.  Ventilation is important.  Parking is important.  The school is an embarrassment.  How do we travel to lower tax base areas like Mattoon and see a modern beautiful building while people here think this is "good enough?"  Complain all you want about the location, but shoehorning in a school into another neighborhood is going to lead to another useless building down the line.  Stop forcing half the high school kids to go to a substandard building because you have nothing better to do than complain about everything with no better solution.  Central isn'thistoric, it is dump that is no longer serving the community.  If you think it is go sweat it out with my daughters the next 2 days.  I suggest you bring a towel.

cjwinla wrote on August 21, 2014 at 6:08 am

Thank you JHilding for articulating the real issues here as a parent of school age children. Mine have graduated but I do care about those coming behind them. Central is a dump and an embarrassment to Champaign. Not one single viable alternative advocated by those who say no but rather just rants against people who have volunteered their time and efforts to make this school system better. 

As for the Bristol Park suggestion, that is a low income housing development project to provide affordable housing for the poor . It's an outrage to even suggest the City break their promise to build that project for the poor people that live there now and are leaving voluntarily with the expectation of returning to new affordable housing. 

I have faith the good people of Champaign will do what's right and approve the new high school equipped for the 21st Century 






rsp wrote on August 21, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Bristol Park is not a low income housing development! They haven't even commited to a plan or a developer yet. But they are kicking out the "poor" people who will not be invited back. Why demolish the neighborhood and rebuild it only to invite all the same people back? Those folks are getting housing vouchers and if they own their home bought out. If they build a new complex there the people would have to apply like everyone else to get in. It would also be mixed income, not just "poor" people.

And the city is working with the property owners there to avoid eminent domain!

Wandering Logic wrote on August 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

I have two children.  One at Central and one at Edison.  I'm also a bleeding-heart liberal who has never met a tax he didn't like.  If I actually believed that the plan to build a 1700 student highschool on North Neil would lead to improved educational outcomes I'd be out pounding the streets working to promote this referendum.  While I agree that something needs to be done, after looking at this plan, and the limited amount of information that the school board has been willing to share about it, I believe that this plan will lead to outcomes that are worse, both for our kids and for our city.  Not just suboptimal compared to some other plan, actually worse than maintaining the status quo.

Central needs new windows and central air (plus many other things, but those are the two that have been desperate needs for over two decades).  At the school board meeting on July 28th the administration gave a report about the capital needs of the entire district.  The cost of installing new windows and central air would be $7 million.  And in fact, that money is already budgeted.  Why?  Because if the referendum passes then our children will be moved to the new refrigerated warehouse on North Neil, and the current Central building will be retrofitted as new offices for the Unit 4 administration!  Essentially, the board is holding the air conditioning for Central hostage until the voters cave and pass the referendum.

Meanwhile highschool enrollment is expected to increase from 2760 last year to 3207 in 2022 (447 additional students, a 16% increase).$file/Champaign_EP_Rept_01092013_REV.pdf (the summary is on page 23), and the two high schools are already over capacity.  But every study about high school sizes shows that a size around 900-1000 students is optimal.  (Google "optimal high school size").  Larger than about 1000 students and educational outcomes decline.

So why is the school board proposing a 1700 student capacity school on the north edge of town?  There are so many options for building a third, much smaller, school, for less money, and placed so that it serves the parts of the city where the school-age population is actually growing (see page 13 of the report I linked.  Red is growing, green is shrinking.)  Perhaps the best site for a third high school is North Neil, perhaps it is elsewhere.  But (as far as I know) the school board hasn't actually considered any options except closing Central and building a monstrosity to replace it.

jhilding wrote on August 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I find it odd that studies say effective learning can't take place in a larger school.  I graduated from a high school in a western suburb of Chicago and we had over 2800 students in our school and it was and still is ranked one of the best public high schools in the state.  In my opinion, we are setting the bar too low.  How do you achieve excellence if you accept average?  It goes for the facilities and the staff.  

As an aside, I just received notificatIon that we can't make it 2 days without an early dismissal.  Students will be dismissed at 1:05 from their sauna tomorrow.  Just enough to count it as a day, or another wasted day that could have been spent learning something.  Depends how you look at it I guess.  

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on August 21, 2014 at 7:08 am
Profile Picture

To LocalOutsider,

I agree with you about MTD's governing people, though not necessarily about the new guy in charge. Over the last few years, MTD has been far and away THE WORST at responding to requests for information. Of all the local government entities I've queried, MTD is the only non-responsive entity. i.e. they do not respond at all. Not a word. Nothing.

I'm frankly stunned by their lack of response. I hope it changes with the new leadership.

Also, I disagree with you about Pattsi Petrie.

Pattsi Petrie might be my favorite person in local governance. She's smart. She makes her opinions/expertise known & available. She's unafraid to engage.

pattsi wrote on August 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

Great thread. I am learning a lot. For those who are curious about the effectiveness of number of students/high school, here is the entry portal to many articles and research reports. These might lead to even more conversations as suggested by a previous poster.

cjwinla wrote on August 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

In Illinois 8 of the top 10 high schools in terms of Academic Achievement ( US World and News Report) have students in excess of 1,000 students. The #5 and #8 have over 4,000 students. None of these schools have facilities over 25 years old, some have facilities under 5 years, and most are in the 5-15 year range.

Facilities count in a big way for the appropiate learning experience for young people in todays world.


loopillini wrote on August 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

We do not have children in the Champaign schools, but my partner and I plan to both vote yes on this referendum as we both work in the tech sector that is slowly growing in Champaign. How are the two related, you ask? Well try and recruit top-flight, high-achieving engineers and designers in the private sector, people who can almost literally write their own compensation plans anywhere and then you will come to realize how important this issue, among others, can be. Champaign-Urbana is a wonderful, amazing place to live and work, but we are competing against some equally (if not more) wonderful, amazing places for a very small pool of talent. When they come for interviews and visits, those with children or who are contemplating having them, always want to know about the local schools. What are the facilities like? How robust are the STEM opportunities and offerings? What are the extracurricular opportunities? Well, it is pretty difficult to trumpet a roaring 20's era high school building to these potential new colleagues. So who loses here? We all do when they choose to take their talent and disposable income to Austin or San Jose.

These brilliant, high achieving folks expect the best for the themselves, as well as their children. The current state of our secondary schools puts us at a disadvantage. They simply aren't good enough.

jhilding wrote on August 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Loopillini please keep speaking to everyone you know!  I have a senior who is going to college next year and I fear she is going unprepared for the pace, the competition, and the overall experience for the exact reasons you state.  Bless you for caring about the community without having a "dog in the fight" so to speak, it speaks volumes of you character, and the kind of character that hopefully this community exhibits when the votes are counted.  We can't let these children fall further behind.  The economic realities of today are sad enough, they must go in with the tools to succeed.  

rsp wrote on August 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

You do know the building is not the cause if your child is unprepared, right? It's the education the school provides in the building. And the school board is in charge of that.

LocalTownie wrote on August 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

You took the words right out of my mouth. Bricks and mortar don't educate. Teachers do. Whether or not a building is air conditioned doesn't determine whether kids get a good education or not. I am a product of Unit 4 schools, none of the schools I attended had AC and I've been quite successful.

pattsi wrote on August 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

O.K., here is what I learned by going to the source mentioned, US News and World Report on high schools, there are no Illinois HS within the two lists.

Here is the list of highly ranked Illinois HS. All are north of I-80. So next we ought to look at the census data for the communities related to income, racial mx, property tax rate, etc. before we make comparisons based on year built and square footage.

Again a bit of a reminder, those of us living south of I-80 help fund HS in the Chicago area due to large number of Tax Increment Finance Districts and the state Ptell formula. Nothing is black or white just a lot of gray area.

justthefacts wrote on August 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm

It sure is hard to accept facts which do not support your positon.

SaintClarence27 wrote on August 29, 2014 at 8:08 am

Those of us south of I-80 also get a lot of funding from North of I-80 in other areas. Overall, Chicago pays far more in taxes than they actually receive from the state, and we're the opposite.

LocalTownie wrote on August 22, 2014 at 8:08 am

The joke of a school board can push this as much as they want, my vote will still be no. They should have been planning for the next high school years ago, that's what I have to do when I want to buy a home. I adjust my budget and start saving. I don't go to my employer and demand an increase because they owe it to me to fulfill my wants. The costs associated with this proposed school are way too high, when you consider the price tag to build it, the increase in tax dollars the MTD is going to be asking for to bus the kids out there, and the costs to maintain this new building. The whole issue needs to be tabled until we have a more responsible board in place. Purchasing land before you have support from the community is plain irresponsible and a sure sign this project is not being handled in an intelligent manor.

justthefacts wrote on August 22, 2014 at 8:08 am

I don't understand why the current school board is being blamed for the failings of past school boards. Central needs to be replaced. The current board has a vision for the schools; let's not punish students just because past school boards did not live up to your expectations.

rsp wrote on August 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

You don't fix problems by doing them in an irresponsible manner. We have gone from one extreme to another. You can't plan for the future like that. Past boards didn't do it and the current one isn't doing it either.

justthefacts wrote on August 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

It seems to me that the current board has a vision and a plan to realize that vision. Some do not share that vision and/or do not support the plan to implement it. That does not mean there is no vision or plan.

pattsi wrote on August 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

I will accept your assumption that the administration and BOE have a vision/plan--for arguments sake. My take away from many postings is that the vision/plan was predetermined many years ago. The consultants chosen were there to give credability to the vision. The community meetings were structued to do the same with skewed attendees. Land was purchased before the monies were approved via a referendum. And since it is presently via the 1% and will be should the referendum pass the taxpayers monies that will be spent on a vision that these citizens had a minimal chance to give input. Posters via several means have pointed out the difficulty getting complete information from Unit 4.

It is for all of these reasons that I have strongly supported that the county board move toward participatory budgeting. By doing so, citizens have a seriou opportunity to become engaged with how the county spends their tax dollars. For the 2015 budget there be a CB study session solely on the 2015 county budget to hear from the public and have mutual exchanges. This is scheduled for 23 Sept @ Brookens. This is the second year of moving toward more and more budget transparency. Last year the Democratic caucus held the first step on the pathway to full blown participatory budgeting. If citizens understand the budget, then the citizens can be more engaged.

justthefacts wrote on August 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

Well, I guess we will find out this fall if Central students will be sentenced to more years in purgatory because some local politicians have an agenda to revise the public budgeting process.

pattsi wrote on August 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

Sorry, I do not understand. The county has absolutely nothing to do with Unit 4.

LocalTownie wrote on August 22, 2014 at 11:08 am

Purgatory? Seems like a bit of an exaggeration....When this fails blame the current board, and past if you will, for not planning better. But don't blame the voters for not falling for this mess hook line and sinker.

justthefacts wrote on August 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm



Merrian-Webster definition of purgatory:

Full Definition of PURGATORY1:  an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification; specifically :  a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven 2:  a place or state of temporary suffering or misery  Attending Central obviously does not fit the first definition of purgatory but some would  say the second definition applies. Pattsi, you brought the issue of the county budgeting process into a Central discussion thread, so I thought you had reason for doing that.


LocalTownie wrote on August 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I'm full aware of what purgatory means. It doesn't apply to the situation at Central, give us all a break from the dramatics.

justthefacts wrote on August 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Those sitting through a math class in 100 degree heat might feel like they are in purgatory.

pattsi wrote on August 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Indeed, I mentioned participatory budgeting not to derail the thread, but to lay on the table an interesting mechanism to better understand any budget, Unit 4, county, cities, and as a means to engage taxpayers in budget decisions. No hidden agenda. Just a means for engagement that more and more elected bodies are beginning to use.