Tour shows 2014 condition of 1930s high school

Tour shows 2014 condition of 1930s high school

CHAMPAIGN — In Central High School's Seely Hall, plaques and photos dating back to 1899 line the walls of a walkway dubbed the "Hall of Fame," commemorating star athletes through the years.

In the main entrance, well-lit showcases display awards and equipment from past and present teams, clubs and extracurricular activity groups.

Get school board member John Bambenek's take on Central High School Thursday at 7:40 on WDWS.

And a large storage closet in the back end of the school library, the Archives Room, houses old yearbooks, files, even a letterman's jacket donated by alum — and "Number One Central Maroon" — David Ho.

"The history of this school is one thing that cannot be manufactured," Maroons athletic director John Woods said.

And the history of a building that has been standing since the 1930s is something school officials have worked to preserve over the years, said Central Principal Joe Williams.

"One thing community members always talk about is the history; they love the history here. They donate all kinds of things to the school and we take the history of Central very seriously," Williams said Tuesday morning.

He was giving the first of a series of tours aimed at informing curious locals about conditions at Champaign's two public high schools — preferably before Election Day arrives.

Chronicles of the past are archived throughout the entire building on University Avenue — even in the storage cellar beneath Combes Gym.

Signatures of cello players from the '50s are scribbled across the cement walls of the basement, which could be considered a crawl space to anyone taller than 4-foot-6. Band and athletic equipment is methodically disorganized in the overcrowded storage space, which tends to flood when there's heavy rain.

Just another "one of those things we have to deal with," Williams said.

Despite the charming history maintained throughout Central, the space is no longer practical to deliver a 21st-century education, according to the Unit 4 school board. That's why, come Nov. 4, voters in the district will be asked to approve $97.7 million to build a new Central (on Interstate Drive in northern Champaign) and $51.3 million to renovate Centennial.

A Central alumna, Mary Kennedy of Urbana, attended Tuesday's tour of her alma mater because she wanted to see how the school has changed over the years. The tour, which lasted a little over an hour, took her on a stroll down memory lane, to out-of-date destinations like Room 107 (which Kennedy remembers being the hottest classroom in the school); to a gym that seats about 1,250 (half as many as Woods would prefer); to the school theater (with no back stage and no balcony).

While national trends show a shift toward higher-tech learning in the classroom, much of Central is too outdated to keep up, Williams says. This, along with several other problems with the old and overcrowded building, is why district leaders are ready for a revamp.

Williams hopes any community member looking to make an informed decision in November will come and see the Champaign schools for his or herself.

"We do have wonderful things happening, but we also want to show everyone our needs facility-wise," he said. "We want to make sure people's perceptions are true, and the only way we can do that is if you actually come and visit us."

The morning tours at Centennial on Tuesday had a slightly larger turnout. Five community members, three of them prospective parents, got the full tour of the Chargers' Crescent Drive home.

"A parent told me he was struck by how evident it is that every space is being utilized right now," said Tuesday's host, Principal Greg Johnson.

The next official community tours of both high schools will be from 9 to 10 a.m. next Tuesday. However, Johnson said he is happy to set up a limited number of extra tours of Centennial if needed.

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

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