At Unit 4 high schools, the 'C' stands for 'crowded'

At Unit 4 high schools, the 'C' stands for 'crowded'

The overcrowding problems at Champaign Central and Centennial high schools have piled up over the years. Here's a small sample:

Central's band room: Room for 45. But 192? 'It's crazy.'

Built in 1956 as an addition to the school, Central's band room comfortably holds about 45 students. And that's without instruments, bands Director John Currey notes.

When it's just the choral students, he says, it's not bad. But bring in the whole orchestra, whose members require more space to move their upper torsos when they play their instruments, and things start to get tight. Add the wind students, and it's even snugger, he says.

And when you try to cram in the entire marching band — 192 kids, plus instruments?

"It's maddening," Currey says.

Last year, he snapped a picture with about 150 band members in the room. ("Crazy. There were kids on the floor.")

Then he had the band play — and measured the noise, using a decibel reader. The sound, he found, was comparable to sitting at the back of a jet airplane.

As for storage, it's virtually nonexistent — roughly 8 feet by 16 feet with shelving. So instruments end up on the floor, creating a sort of obstacle course, while marching uniforms are kept in the basement, which gets wet, moldy and dusty, Currey says.

Outside the band office, there are filing cabinets on top of filing cabinets with trophies piled on top.

"I'm not making this up," Currey says. "It's hideous."

Other area high schools have it better.

At Hoopeston Area, a 30-foot-by-20-foot room fits 58 marching band members nicely, says band instructor Patrick Brooks, and storage isn't a problem.

At Monticello, a 2003 expansion doubled the size of the room — to about 40 feet by 60 feet — not including the band office, three practice rooms, three storage rooms and two restrooms.

Sages band Director Allison Allender calls it "a huge improvement over what we had before" and nothing like what she experienced herself as a student — at Central.

"Yes," she says, "the room is tiny."


Centennial's trailer: 2 rooms, 15 classes daily

The unofficial symbol of the referendum holds 15 classes a day, will run the district $50,000 this school year and resides on Crescent Drive, for all to see, right in front of Centennial.

It's a trailer — or, to use the more acceptable term, "portable" — and Unit 4 began leasing it this summer because of overcapacity issues that officials promise will only get worse from here.

Both of Champaign's public high schools are currently at 103 percent capacity and project to be at 120 percent by 2022, the district says, citing record kindergarten enrollment figures each of the past three years.

The long-term solution at Centennial is a 92,500-square foot addition officials hope taxpayers will spring for.

The short-term solution is the portable, which is divided into two rooms and hosts 15 classes during each eight-period day — five math, four health, two social studies, two foreign languages and two athletic study halls.

The overpopulation problem is "significant," says Centennial Principal Greg Johnson. "As it is now, our ESL classes are run in a room that used to be an office. We have an old lecture hall with fixed seating that is used five periods out of the day, and we've converted a small room that was designed for music sectionals into a regular classroom that's used every period of the day.

"And we simply don't have the space for industrial-technology programming, so all of those students are bused to Central on a period-to-period basis. These are just some of the examples. Each year, we find that we've needed to be more and more creative with the spaces we have."

Other than sixth period — when juniors and seniors are allowed off-campus for lunch — 58 of the 61 rooms that hold classes inside the actual high school are used full-time, Johnson says.

"At our projected rate of growth, in a few years, we simply won't have the space we need for our kids — even if our programming remains static," he says. "Another portable with two more classrooms won't be enough."


Central's parking lot: 424 fewer spaces than Centennial's

Visitors on Tuesday will get a taste of what it's like to be a Maroon before even setting foot in the building.

Just try finding a parking spot upon arrival.

"We say in jest that our Central students are the best parallel-parking students that you'll ever find," Central Principal Joe Williams says. "It's funny, but it's the truth."

The school's only parking lot has 126 spaces, and they're reserved for staff. There isn't enough room for all 180 staff members' vehicles, forcing school officials to designate street spots for the overflow and staff who travel to other buildings during the day. All staff spaces — whether in the lot or on the street — are first-come, first-served.

Students have to jockey for on-street spots in the surrounding neighborhood, Williams says. They know to arrive early — or face a long walk.

Around the area, there doesn't appear to be a worse parking situation:

— Centennial, with about 1,400 students, has 550 parking spaces for its 150-plus employees, students and visitors, according to district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart.

— Bloomington High, with an enrollment of about 1,490, has one lot for staff and visitors, and two that are used primarily by students who buy parking stickers, Principal Tim Moore says.

— Urbana High has enough off-street spots for the 120 or so staff members and 38 or 39 of its 1,100-plus students. Still, Principal Matthew Stark says, the majority of students have to find parking on residential streets.

— And there's enough parking at tiny DeLand-Weldon High, on the western edge of Piatt County, for nearly all staff and students who drive to have two spots to themselves.

The current Central has between 1,300 and 1,350 students. Tentative plans for the future Central, which would be built for a student body of 1,700, would include about 1,200 parking spaces.

"That would accommodate all staff, all students and visitors," Williams says.


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MSJ66 wrote on September 01, 2014 at 10:09 am

My wife and I will still be voting a resoundng NO. Our children will be done and never get to use these schools. Plus regardless of the barrage of Friends of Champaign Schools ads promoting how taxe rates would still be the lowest in the area even if the referendum passes, the taxes for other things in Champaign are ridiculous. Look at your cable bill, cell phone pill, power bills, gas tax,  etc. Champaign has a municipal tax on all these. Throw in the 1% sales tax increase allocated for schools several years ago and ever increasing assessments by the unaccountable MTD in this town and I bet Champaign has one of the highest overall tax rates(all taxes considered) in the state. I moved here over 25 years ago and were it not for having a good job in this community I would have been gone years ago. The process for this referendum and the school "plan" has been one big comedy of errors and even though the $500/year increase in taxes wouldnt change anything in my household, we will still be voting NO. Tired of this community coming to tax payers with their hand out all the time. Do what most people do. Live within your means and within your budget. Don't build/buy what you cannot realistically afford.