After loss, board to explore tweaks

After loss, board to explore tweaks

A new Central High School will have to wait, at least until next April — and possibly longer.

By a 1,200-vote margin, voters turned down the plan to build a new $97.7 million Central High School on the northern edge of town and spend $51.3 million to renovate Centennial High School — the largest school-construction proposal in county history. The final vote was 12,950 no to 11,781 yes, or 52.3 to 47.6 percent.

School board President Laurie Bonnett said it's too soon to say whether the district will try again in the April consolidated elections. The next option after that? Spring of 2016.

"We'll look at the numbers and go from there," Bonnett said. "The numbers are going to tell us where we need to focus."

One thing Bonnett doesn't plan to do: revisit other possibilities for a new Central site.

"We bought the land, No. 1. Let's be clear about that. We own the land. It makes no sense not to build there," she said, but added that she's just one of seven board members.

Board members were disappointed by the result but encouraged by the 5-point margin.

"We didn't get blown away like I think some people thought we would be," Bonnett said, crediting a get-out-the-vote effort over the past month. "Maybe had we gotten out earlier and done more," it might have won, she said.

Board member John Bambenek said a margin of 10 points or more would be "going back to the drawing board territory, and we're not there. It's within the margin where we can explore tweaking and minor changes."

Five school board seats are also up for election in April — all but Bonnett's and Lynn Stuckey's. Bambenek said he hasn't decided whether he'll run for re-election, as he's considering a bid for mayor.

When the district first proposed the 80-acre site at Neil Street extended and Interstate Drive last January, public reaction was less than enthusiastic.

Opponents complained that it wasn't "central," that it would force more students and parents to drive or take the bus, and that it would contribute to urban sprawl. School officials countered that it was an area identified for residential growth by the city, with several subdivisions nearby, and that no suitable in-town location could be found.

An alternative plan to use 37 acres around Judah Christian School and Spalding Park, suggested last spring by Champaign Park Board President Joe Petry, was embraced by critics of the Interstate site. But a school district analysis concluded the site would be too small and cost tens of millions of dollars more to develop. Critics said the analysis was flawed and the figures inflated.

The school district also considered using part of Dodds Park for the new Central, with talk of moving the soccer complex there to the Interstate site. But that was dropped when a divided park board ruled it out.

When the school board later settled on a price tag for the referendum — $149 million — new objections arose about the proposed tax increase. The school district estimated it would cost about $141 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home, with an assessed value of $100,000.

School officials argued that the increase would still keep Champaign's tax rate at the low end among Big 12 Conference schools. They also said the size of the two new or renovated schools — about 300,000 square feet, for 1,700 students each — was about average for Big 12 schools.

A district poll last spring showed that 47 percent of voters would support a referendum of that size, proving accurate on Tuesday.

Some residents complained that the district shouldn't have purchased the 80 acres on Interstate Drive before it was approved by voters — at $40,000 an acre, or $3.2 million, using proceeds from the 1 percent sales tax proceeds and the sale of the former Marquette School. District officials said landowners wouldn't agree to an option to buy.

Still others objected to the large amount to be spent on Centennial, which is 30 years newer than Central, or argued that the district should have placed a higher priority on renovating 104-year-old Dr. Howard Elementary School, the district's oldest active school building. The Unit 4 Future Facilities Steering Committee had recommended having all three schools on the ballot. School officials said the $30 million renovation of Dr. Howard would have pushed the referendum cost too high.

Some continued to press for an expansion of Central's current building at 610 W. University Ave., or one consolidated high school. School officials argued renovating Central wouldn't provide the space needed without demolishing several blocks of homes.

Kathy Shannon, who has two students in Champaign schools, including one at Central, was relieved by the outcome. She's a strong supporter of school funding and knows firsthand the need for better facilities at Central, but she strongly opposed the Interstate site.

"I hated to not vote for it," she said. "I'm really hoping that they can take another look at some of the other plans for infill development," such as Spalding Park or expanding Central's current building. She also believes Dr. Howard should be addressed before Centennial.

"I'm hoping that they'll really talk to people and find out what people really objected to and why they didn't vote for it, and come back with another proposal."

Bonnett called those suggestions "illogical," saying Spalding and Dodds are not available. She also blasted the "politics" of the selection process, with Spalding offered up several years after the board was told by the park district's previous director that it was not an option.

"Spalding's not an issue, Dodds is not an opportunity," she said. "We own land at Interstate Drive."

Bambenek said there may be some way to reduce costs, possibly with a smaller renovation at Centennial, or bringing Dr. Howard into the mix.

Asked on WDWS about lowering the cost Tuesday night, Bonnett said, "Dude, how does that change? It just gets more."

Bambenek did some polling for the board several weeks ago and found 35 percent for the proposal, 35 percent against, and 30 percent undecided. The two biggest reasons cited by opponents were location and cost (40 percent each), followed by the need to renovate Dr. Howard (20 percent).

What Unit 4 was asking for was one of the richest bond packages for school construction in state history.

Rockford voters approved a $139 million proposal in the 2012 general election, but others in the nine-figure range in recent years never made it past the blueprints.

Among the packages that have been rejected: $133 million for Lake County Township in 2011; $174 million for Winnetka New Trier in 2010; and $114 million for St. Charles in 2009.

Lockport's school board went 0 for 3 in asking voters to sign off on a new high school. The answer was no in 2007 to $125.7 million, in the 2008 primary to $153.79 million, and in the 2008 general election to $141.74 million.

Superintendent Judy Wiegand, who was unavailable for interviews Tuesday night, said during the campaign that even if the measure passes in April, the new high school likely wouldn't open until the fall of 2019.

In the meantime, the district may have to buy more portable classrooms for both high schools, and possibly the three middle schools, to address overcrowding, she said. Both Centennial and Central are at 103 percent capacity, and enrollment growth is expected to push that to 120 percent by 2022-23.

Bonnett invited those who voted no to come to the table to "continue the conversation.

"Capacity is still an issue," Bonnett said. "We still are going to have kids who won't have a place in a classroom unless we build a school and address Centennial's shortage of facilities as well."

The money for the high schools would have provided new classrooms, modern equipment, updated labs, physical education fitness centers, new spaces for project-based learning and technology-based programs, as well as new industrial and training programs.

It also would have consolidated Central's athletic facilities, now scattered off-site at several locations. Central would also get an improved auditorium, outdoor spaces for PE, expanded band facilities to replace its current overcrowded quarters, and its own marching band practice area.

Both high schools would be fitted with modern mechanical and electrical systems for technology needs, new windows with screens, energy-saving improvements, dedicated arts and music spaces, band spaces with more storage and practice spaces, special-education rooms, proper storage and band practice rooms.

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ERE wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 am
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The school board preemptively decided to purchase the 80 acre site, and is now threatening that their decision on that site is final. Thanks a lot. 

Why couldn't there have been a referendum on the site before the purchase? There seems to be a lot of disappointment and dissatisfaction regarding the far north site. There is a consensus that a new school and new outdoor facilities are needed. 

Not sure how the school board decided to force feed that site to their constituents. Land values in central Illiniois are not declining. Couldn't the land be sold? Probably a great investment. 

Expand the current Central site with West Side Park, a bit of eminent domain, and the YMCA property?

School board elections next spring will be interesting....


787 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 8:11 am

I was unfortunate enough to hear the interview on WDWS-AM with Unit 4 School Board President Laurie Bonnett, at 10:55pm on Tuesday night.

It was the most unprofessional piece that I've heard in a long time.  She was snarky and punchy at the same time, and was giving completely unreasonable answers to reasonable questions by the WDWS reporter.

She reinforced that they're going to build a school out on the north 80, and the problem is people who don't want to drive an extra 3 miles.

Here's a hint for Ms. Bonnett... you're not building anything, anywhere... until the money shows up.


Could WDWS make that interview available on the website?  It was a shocking interview.

Citizen1 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 8:11 am

I agree.  Laurie Bonnett's remarks to WCIA after the election speaks volumns.  The school board is going to cram down that ill conceived, ill advised boon doggle of a site until every last one of them is voted out. They just won't admit a mistake from the start.   Sell the land.  Start over.

787 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 9:11 am

I was also told that her interview on WCIA was completely unprofessional as well.  That's really a shame.   The people of Unit 4 deserve better than this.... her snarky attitude, along with the fact that she's got herself convinced that "we bought that 80 acres, and that's where it is going".

Is she up for re-election in 2016?

AreaMan wrote on November 05, 2014 at 8:11 am
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So now it is clear -- the site was never up for reevaluation, and all of the alternative location studies and traffic studies were manufactured in a way to create support for the ill-advised purchase of land so far from the students and residential areas.

For the financial health and social fabric of our community, moving Central High School to the least-accessible edge of town would have devastating impact for years to come.

djward wrote on November 05, 2014 at 8:11 am

I fear that it is Ms. Bonnett who is being "illogical" in her stubborn responses immediately after this failed referendum. I am very progressive and will (almost) always vote for more money for schools and taxes in general. I have three kids in Unit 4 schools, including Central. My wife is a teacher, and I am active in my kids' schools. We desperately need a new Central. But I will not vote for bad decisions. The Interstate Drive location was a very bad decision when it was purchased and remains a bad decision today. I have no doubt that the referendum would have passed if the location was logical, and I do not understand how Ms. Bonnett and the board do/did not realize that.

In the spring of 2006 the school board lost a $66 million referendum that looked to rebuild and remodel many elementary schools and, most significantly, fulfill the requirement of the consent decree. I and many others voted no to that referendum because the school board made the terrible decision to build a new school way out near Staley and Bradley, in the Boulder Ridge subdivision. I did not want to vote against more money for the schools, but the school board was making bad decisions. After that loss, Culver and school board members made comments about Boulder Ridge being the only feasible site, much as Ms. Bonnett is saying now. (Of course a big difference is that the board then didn't decide to purchase the land before putting it up for a vote.) Then, the school board was forced to think creatively, and thanks to smart use of bond money, in 2011 a new, beautiful, amazing Booker T Washington opened up in the perfect location. Along with that came a new Carrie Busey in Savoy in 2012 and, last year, big updates to Bottenfield. Sadly, Dr. Howard has fallen through the cracks. For some unfortunate reason, Dr. Howard was left off of this referendum in 2014, which gave many people another legitimate reason to vote no. 

Point being, the school board made bad decisions in 2006, lost the referendum, and then were forced to come up with creative ways to fix the issues at hand. They found a better site for that north-side school after voters told them it was a bad decision. I am very, very hopeful that the board will now finally realize that the Interstate site is a bad decision, and use their creativity and intelligence to find a better solution. I do appreciate the work of the board, and I recognize it is a very difficult job.

jhilding wrote on November 05, 2014 at 9:11 am

This is the smallest big town on earth.  Progress is looked at with scorn at every turn.  God forbid we move out of the mid 1950's and provide an up to date school for our children.  If the main complaint continues to be the school isn't "central" let's change the name. Destroying the neighborhood by tearing down houses is really stupid, trying to dress up an out dated building is insane.  


Before you vote no again In the future consider these things. 

Modern schools attract better teachers, very few teachers, all things being equal will accept a job at a run down dump like Central when they have access to a new, comfortable, up to date school with the same offer available to them.  Central has a number of teachers short on experience, this doesn't help our children out.  

Business does not find our community attractive as a place to land when the public school system is so antiquated.  Smart people want their children to be well educated, when they look at Champaign as a possible place to start or expand a business they look at our schools, and they pass.  They can't sell people on transferring here, we are an embarrassment.  


It is really ok to take a bus to school or have to drive.  I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and had to take a bus 8 miles to high school, my public high school was and is one of the top ranked schools in the state.  People survive bus travel to school just fine, you need not make it such a big deal that your children might no longer be able to walk to school.  Life will continue, I promise you.  Your children may even learn a coping skill or two.  Stop coddling your kids so much, they will adapt.

AreaMan wrote on November 05, 2014 at 9:11 am
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If you define progress as raising taxes just to double bus costs, triple commute times, and eliminate any access via biking or walking, then it really is no surprise that you grew up in the suburbs. Welcome to the future, where we plan to build in a sustainable fashion to balance transportation demand with population growth, and not offset the increased costs to other governmental agencies.

Area resident wrote on November 05, 2014 at 10:11 am

I do understand what you are saying. It  is ok to take a bus to school or drive.  I did until i reached Jr. High.

I went to Central and graduated in 1980 and I know we need a new high school.  We do want good teachers and we want our children to get the best education that can be offered in this area without distractions but the majority feels the SITE would be a distraction  and I agree.  This is what the real issue is, not if you take a bus or have to drive to school.

kionae wrote on November 05, 2014 at 11:11 am

The biggest problem with Unit 4 is not that they want to modernize their various campuses, but that they spend money in such a way that actually doing so across the board is impossible.

Just as an example, look at the current renovations on Bottenfield and Kenwood.  Unit 4 overspent their budget building the new Carey Busey building, and now they're having to cut some pretty significant corners on Bottenfield and Kenwood's renovations.  If I recall, even Carey Busey didn't get everything they'd planned on.

I would have no problem giving money to the school district if they could be trusted to spend it appropriately, but they've proven time and time again that they can't.  And it's not just the general population that thinks so.  I have family and friends who work for the district as teachers and support staff, and they're saying the same things (and most of them voted against the referendum).  When you can't even get your own staff on board, you've got serious problems that extend far beyond "scorn" for progress.

45solte wrote on November 05, 2014 at 6:11 pm

The thing is  some people actually have to pay the increased property taxes for this to work. If they have kids in Unit 4, on top of that they will have to pay for increased transportation costs (for their own family, initially, and then for all the people who will require subsidies, etc. for transportation--a cost not factored into any of this huge price tag at all). Since, by law, no more than 17% of applications for free/reduced can be verified for qualification, there is abuse of the system, so why wouldn't that abuse extend to transportation relief. Yes, renters pay taxes too, but, landlords of low income housing pay subsidized rates so it's not really a relative equivalent comparison. In this economy many people are just trying to hang on to their homes, while Unit 4 is making assumptions about how much of an increase in property taxes people should be able to absorb (for the next 20+ years or so, lol). how about thinking of all the things people sacrifice and go without so that they can afford to keep their homes and pay property taxes. And this is all on top of the ongoing 1% sales tax. Something's gotta give. Taxes, taxes, and more taxes. The money (of other people) *does* run out, eventually. There were missed opportunities along the way due to Unit 4's refusal to think smaller. Oh, there was potential land around Windsor and 1st or so, near campus? Meh, oh well (as the board was notified of it's pending sale to somebody else). 'Wasn't that too small?' I believe was the response. There was an opportunity to buy the old Y near Central, but, I don't think the board had any sort of vision when that opportunity sat there for a while. Country Fair is an eyesore and a well-studied location, but, the board repeatedly shot it down (perhaps people WOULD feel like paying more for a more central location). Bristol Park?? Boo to gentrification. Ya. Forget about improving a neighborhood--self-segregation is the way to go??? 

45solte wrote on November 05, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Even though you lived in the 'burbs, you are probably familiar with a lot of Chicago neighborhoods. Take a drive around some time and look at the school buildings in the city, proper. How old do a lot of them look to you? It's not as you say 'insane' to continue to use useable buildings. The schools in Chicago are not failing because they are (to you) 'old.'  FYI, there are some pretty good teachers and students at Uni and according to your standards Uni would be considered a dump. Yes, smart people want their children to be well-educated. Has it ever occurred to you that it's the curriculum that turns people off to Unit 4 vs. the buildings? Again, look at Uni. Does it occur to you, at all, that a(nother) property tax increase (for 20+ years) might be difficult for many property tax payers?

Marty wrote on November 05, 2014 at 10:11 am

Tweaks? We don’t need tweaks, we need a new board.

I did not vote for this.

I'm not excited about paying more taxes for a school that is not designed with a limited budget in mind, a school that appears to be the boards dream school and not what the people want. We all know that standard procedure is to ask for more than you want, then, when that gets rejected go for a lower amount and claim you made lots of cuts and concessions. Wait for it because it will happen.

I don't like the location. The land has been bought, big deal, it can be sold just as easily. It’s pretty irresponsible or arrogant to buy land for a school you don’t even know if you will be allowed to build. I don’t feel enough creative thought went into this. I like the Spaulding area much better as one option.

If central is no longer suitable for use as a school without spending significant money for upgrades for necessary things and unnecessary things the responsible thing to do if building a new school would be to sell the school or demolish it and sell the land and put that money towards the new school. To re-use an unsuitable building for other uses is wrong. But no, we can move other offices in there and use it. This is going to be more wasted taxpayer money. The board won’t even lay out definite plans.

How long will it be before the new central and centennial will reach capacity? Will it be before or after they are paid for?

Why are less than half of Champaign’s students ready for college and how will this improve this number or raise the schools report card grades?

How will this make the schools safer so that we don’t require police at the schools and how will it prevent all of the lock downs?

How is this going to make kids want to learn?

What guarantees are there against cost over-runs?

Is it worth spending 50 million dollars on centennial? If it needs that much work why not combine the schools into one big school and sell or demolish both? So the schools would not be competitive in state basketball and football, big deal. Football is likely going away before to long anyway. It would have the benefit of eliminating cross town brawls at games.

What about Dr. Howard, if it’s not going to be fixed tear it down and sell the land.

It may have also been a bad idea to rebuild all of the other schools in town at the same time. Because of that they are all likely to need major repairs or renovation at the same time leading to another large financial burden for residents.

Start being responsible with OUR money, a new school isn’t going to fix the real problems.

Area resident wrote on November 05, 2014 at 11:11 am

 I am a 1980 Central High Graduate and I want to see a new HS built, but I am glad that the proposal for the school expansion did not pass last night.  Action speaks louder than words. The old saying goes we can show you better than we can tell you.  If you wont listen when we tell you we dont want something then we will use the power that we have been given to get the message across.  We dont want the school in this area! I attended a meeting for the school site after they had decided to choose the north site. Instead of them asking the public what site they wanted for the school before buying it they just took it upon themselves to buy the land NOT GOOD! then you expect us ( the tax payers) to pay for building it that's like ordering food that you dont like but your forced to eat it. I DONT THINK SO!  I was not happy with the site then and I am still not happy. I dont want a high school built almost in my back yard. I am a resident of Ashland Park and we love living in this area.  We  have been thinking about having one of the new model homes bulit  as our final home before we retire.  When I heard they  were planning on building a high school in the area I was very troubled by that and seriously thought about moving. At the meeting I attended which was held at Central, I submitted a question to the school board that night about how  were they  going to manage  the traffic, they skipped over my question so I submitted it again and they had no real answer for it.  Before you present your plan to the people make sure you have the most important things worked out. You may have ignored my question but you need my MONEY.  As I stated earlier actions speaks louder than words my voice will be heard!.  I am just curious does anybody know if any of the school board members live near Interstate drive? You know it's easy to choose a place if your not going to have to deal with the day to day issues that it may bring.

Joe American wrote on November 05, 2014 at 11:11 am

Could someone on the inside please pressure Ms. Bonnett to step down?  This is becoming more and more embarassing by the day!  Not only was it poor planning to purchase the Interstate Drive site preemptively instead of securing an option to purchase, but it's arrogant to say they won't build anywhere else.  Doesn't she grasp the fact that this was the LEADING reason why she was denied the referendum?

Area resident wrote on November 05, 2014 at 11:11 am

My suggestion to the School board at this time is to think of a way to ease overcrowding by possibly changing how the school day runs.  I dont know if this has been explored in the past but it is worth a  try.

My thought would be to have a schedule where the students had certain days they attended school and just extend or start the school day a little earlier.  Example of student schedule: Tommy Brown

Monday- Attend Classes from 8am-1pm

Tuesday- Attend Classes from 1-4pm

Wednesday - Attend Classes 7:45 - 3:45

Thrusday no class

Friday - Attend Class 7am - 3:45

And this way all the kids would not be attending school at the same time which would ease the overcrowding until they can come up with a better solution or until they find a site to build on that the tax payers would be willing to pay for.

Just a suggestion.

rsp wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I'm not sure about that schedule but there have been schools who used staggering to help with overcrowding, so one group comes at say7:30, next 8:30, third 9:30. Same with lunch and end of day. That way there are only a few times where everyone is in the building. Some classes could also be held at a different site. I keep thinking about the band, if there is a large space close by they could use for storage and practice. There are empty buildings downtown during the day or just not in use at all.

Citizen1 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 11:11 am

This is the best idea so far.  Call for the removal of Laurie Bonnett.   For her to re-hash and re-present failed ideas again and again are getting us no where.

Kathy S wrote on November 05, 2014 at 12:11 pm

It's very frustrating that Ms. Bonnet invites 'no' voters to "continue the conversation," but has no intention of revisiting the decision about location.  

Area resident wrote on November 05, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I am a concerned resident here in Champaign.

I agree it is very frustrating that Ms. Bonnet and possibly the other school board members dont want to look at another location.  I dont think they heard the voter's and all the comments that the public has stated on this News Gazette site, we dont AGREE with the location! find another location if you want our money And ask the public about the site BEFORE YOU BUY IT. We want a new High School but include us in the site decison.  Maybe there should be some type public task force formed to help the school board come up with a better site that we all can be happy with and dont mind paying for.

45solte wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I think it might be legal to have attached to the referendum ballot the inclusion of an oversight committee as a necessary component. Unfortunately the committee could be kind of useless if hand-picked (stacked) by Unit 4 if the vote includes an ok for the current site. I wonder if a better ballot question is will you pay x amount for a site to be determined by an oversight committee (with a gazillion stipulations written into it so that Unit 4 Admin cannot railroad things in a certain direction once the money is a 'go.'). As with a lot of politician types, Ms. Bonnet seems to fail to recognize that she works for the people and that her 'conversation' rhetoric is beyond tiresome when she continues to ignore, and, further yet, gets huffy over 'the people' speaking.  

OldIlliniFan wrote on November 05, 2014 at 1:11 pm

The school bond referendum is way past the tweak stage.  Another reason my wife and I voted "no" was that the board was not forthcoming on the real cost.  Adding interest, they were asking for close to a quarter billion dollars, with no plan for Dr. Howard.

Batmantis wrote on November 05, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I would say the referendum is very much in the tweak stage. When you lose by a few percentage points you don't scrap the whole plan. I still find it hard to believe there was not enough support to get this through. All of the site options people mentioned have been considered and all had good reason for rejection. At the proposed site you have a large amount of land on which you have few constraints and can build the school you want to build. As has been pointed out many, many times, what is considered "outskirts" of town right now will certainly not be in the future, which is what this is all about - the future. I understand there is a core block of voters who would be against this no matter what, but I can't help but feel some bitterness toward those who want better schools but voted NO in hope of some perfect plan being devised. There is no perfect plan and never will be. Now we'll continue wasting time arguing pointlessly about sites and plans that never have been and never will be a reality. Meanwhile the school enrollment will continue going up, cost of construction will keep going up, and eventually families with the means will choose to live elsewhere.

Citizen1 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 2:11 pm

It depends on what you mean by outskirts.  Most of the sites considered were in North Champaign with gridlocked heavy traffic patterns from shopping areas.  Centennial is now near the center of town as defined as where the students live.  South and West of town sites were only lightly explored.  This is the future residential area and not just where Atkins happened to own development property.  Any site along Staley Road would be better than the North of 74 nightmare the school board insists upon.  There are other sites to the South.  No wonder private school enrollment is expanding in Champaign.  Unit 4 is failing on all counts.  No one wants to be stuck funding a school in a location no one wants where no one lives.

fuddrules wrote on November 06, 2014 at 6:11 am

If location is such an issue and the private H S is expanding, let's put the new public school near the private school. It has to be in a great location, doesn't it???

45solte wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 pm

How does expansion work out that direction when you are almost at the limits of Champaign county? The hospitals, Kraft, UIUC. Those are the major employers in the area now and for some time to come. By the time any imagined re-centering of the city of Champaign would come, the 'new' school would need to be torn down (for the 'old' school haters currently calling Central a dump or because they really don't make buildings like they used to) or remodeled. So, how about we focus on just the next 30 years or so.

rsp wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 pm

There are a lot of better plans that will result in better learning and they cost less.

Molly1 wrote on November 05, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Yep, the school didn't pass, it doesn't really surprise me.

I too am a resident in Ashland Park, and I was reluctant to vote for it for several reasons.

  • I am increasing my own taxes,
  • The school board always described it as having "soccer field, football field, tennis courts, track, gym, oh, and a few classrooms as well"
  • I am encouraging a huge increase in traffic to my area,
  • I am encouraging probably a bit of garbage and vandalism in my neighborhood,
  • I am probably going to be hearing the band, and having the bright lights on football nights disturbing my peace and quiet,
  • I have no kids.

I am not one of those people that typically responds with "What's in it for me?" like a large segment of the population does on a regular basis.  But in this case, I was getting all of the negative aspects of this new school, and none of the positive aspects.

I finally decided that well maybe better educated students working in the community would be what I would get out of it, and I did end up voting for it.

But I do have a suggestion for the school board that may help to make this more palatable for the community at large that don't really want to make a huge investment into something that the vast majority of people will not be able to use.

I understand finding a suitable location for all of those items in an area that doesn't involve eminent domain or purchasing property from multiple owners is a complex endeavor.  Since you already have the property, and I admit that I don't like a location being purchased prior to passing of the bond.  In the future get the money first, before blindly investing in the foundation for something that you can not afford.

My suggestion is this, take the western half of the property that you were planning on placing all of the athletic facilities on, and sell it to the Champaign Park District cheap with the understanding that they will allow you to build your football fields, soccer fields, tracks, gymnasium, etc. on it.  (Hopefully they will even go half and half on the cost, if they could afford it.) You get first dibs on scheduling school related events on the grounds and facilities, but the evenings and weekends when the facilities are not it use by the school, they would be available to the Champaign Park District to allow any legal resident of Champaign to use.

All facilities would be accessable by key card only to users registered with the Champaign Park District, and cameras would verify that the property is not damaged by the public at large.  People will have to be responsible for maintaining the property, or they lose their proveledges granted to them by the Champaign Park District.

This would allow residents to have additional athletic areas available for use, and give the school a little bit of money back on the grounds, and hopefully the CPD going in on the investment that they will benefit from as well.  Besides the athletic property, perhaps classrooms or auditoriums could be available for public use, just like the classrooms at Parkland are available.

This way, the local community, as well as the Champaign School System benefits from the investment, and more people at Ashland Park and surrounding areas will be more inclined to support this massive investment in community property that can be available for them to use as well, instead of just getting the negative aspects of the structures, taxes, noise, garbage, etc.

I personally would apprecate having an additional location like the track to walk my dog.


Another option, build the school first, and commute to the athletic fields that you currently use.  Only after the school has been paid for, then go back and get the funds for installing the local athletic fields near the new school.

jlc wrote on November 05, 2014 at 2:11 pm

That sounds like a great idea. Heck, then the school board could sell the rest of the land they pre-emptively bought to put some of the housing on that they insist will be coming to the area. Maybe they'd even turn a profit on it.

There is no "tweak" that will solve the problem of every single student needing to drive or be driven to and from the Interstate Drive site.

rsp wrote on November 05, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I hate to be the one to point this out to you, but you know that k-8 school they have hinted at? Where do you think they are planning on putting it? Now, think about it for a minute, they already bought the property...just sitting there so they have to use it. Funny how that hasn't been talked about in public though.

pattsi wrote on November 05, 2014 at 8:11 pm

The posted dialogues are awll interesting. That stated why are they being posted now rather than before the referendum got onto the ballot. The community conversation was highly and institutionally structured so these community centered comments did not see the light of day. It is so important to hear from all of the citizens.

Something not covered so far in the posts has to do with several of the campaign statements of the newly elected governor. This individual campaigned on cutting educational funding and eliminating the present minimum wage let alone discussing increasing such.

Decrease educational funding is a dramatic statement across the state, but let's focus here. An argument put forth related to a new HS building with all the bells and whistles is that this will increase educational outcomes. Many posters have questioned the correlation between these two let alone causation. For arguments sake, let us assume that this will be the result. So the next question ought to be where will funding be found to hire the increase numbers of teachers to accomplish the stated outcome along with needed expansion of staff. Some of the above posters have discussed several of the externalities related to the HS site, one being transportation.

If the state continues to decrease educational funding, what additional burdens will be placed on the citizens to pay for these.

Adding to these economic concerns is the matter of minimum wage. For the HS students to transport themselve to the north site costs money. Many of the HS students work for money to cover whatever expenses. What scenarios will play out should these students be put in a situation of earning less than presently. Does this mean working more jobs? Should this be a choice of the majority of students, then this begins to impinge on their opportunities to become better students.




fuddrules wrote on November 06, 2014 at 6:11 am

Build 2 smaller schools.  Both with superb academic support structures.

1 school will be at the new location with all the athletic bells and whistles.  The burbs can choose this school

The other will be city center. No athletic facilities so it won't need nearly as many acres.  The granolas can choose this school. 



AreaMan wrote on November 06, 2014 at 9:11 am
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I voted NO on this referendum solely due to location, but I want to make it clear why I think this is a poor location:

1. Chokepoints: The majority of Champaign's residential areas are south of I-74 and east of I-57. These Interstates act as major barriers in the community, with the opportunity to cross them once every mile (for the most part). By placing the new high school north of I-74, transportation is limited through a few specific "chokepoints" -- Prospect, Neil, Market streets.

2. Gridlock: After forcing traffic onto a select few streets, parents and students will then have to traverse the retail and commercial areas north of I-74, which are notorious for having multiple traffic lights that are not in sync. I think we've all been there during periods of high traffic demand, when we may have a green light but cannot move due to a red light at the next intersection ahead. These effects compound.

3. Skewed traffic analyses: When conducting traffic impact analyses, the school board artificially increased the suitability of the Interstate Drive location in two ways: drive times were calculated using only road speeds (i.e., no traffic lights or stop signs), and assuming 66% of students would arrive via CUMTD when currently 23% take a bus (CUMTD and Yellow combined).

I think the City of Champaign has generally accepted that North Prospect wasn't developed in the most sustainable manner, but as long as it doesn't grow too large, it is manageable. Adding a high school will create severe gridlock, and the school board is planning to add a middle school there too!

I will be voting against any referendum as long as the proposed site remains in an inaccessible location (read: north of 74 and west of 57).

However, I still think there are opportunities to be creative with the facilities: why not have new athletic facilities built on the new site, that can be used for both high schools? Shuttle buses could more easily and conveniently run between the high schools and the athletic compound, allowing the core educational facilities to remain easily accessible, but extracurricular activities to have the space they require.

Westsider wrote on November 06, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Would you run for school boaard?

cretis16 wrote on November 06, 2014 at 10:11 am

They can start by electing a new board president. Bonnet is too awkward, and abrasive. Why do a smart crack like " DUDE" to an inquiry. Need a lot more tact than that. Second point..why is this construction so expensive? Several school districts in states like Texas, Missouri,etc...have build schools of this size for a lot less than the projected cost here in Champaign.

Hold onto your wallets....this school board is going to keep putting this up for vote until it passes...over and over and over.

rsp wrote on November 06, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Just wait, the next vote will be for a new Central and a new Dr. Howard. They will drop the remodel of Centennial for now because they think the Dr. Howard votes will push it over to their side. But more people will be voting in the next election so it could go either way.

BruckJr wrote on November 06, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Why so expensive, you ask?  Is the bidding process to be open or will they limit it to only union shops?  Millions of dollars of difference.

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on November 06, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I heart Urbana!

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on November 06, 2014 at 3:11 pm

I heart Urbana!

BROW8155 wrote on November 06, 2014 at 11:11 pm

A few things on the topics above. If you don’t like the School Board or how they handled this situation then run for the office and do better for all of us. Those who think the proposed money/site is poorly done then come up with viable alternative. If you don’t think this whole process was done correctly with community input (which consisted of countless public meetings) then speak at each Board meeting. By the comments above I assume you must have a dim view of all processes of the Board and thus they are not good stewards of our tax dollars again please step up and develop a brilliant idea that will pass with minimal opposition.

As far as the issue that the land and site is on the ‘outskirts’, it is problematic, but all proposals, any/all locations have major drawbacks. For those of you that were around did you express the same concerns when South Side, Westview, Kenwood, Robeson, Barkstall, Centennial etc., etc., were all built on the ‘outskirts’ They all were built far outside of the population center (heck the proposed site for the new HS is not nearly as far outside of town as the previous mentioned buildings) in fact the newspaper printed directions for people to ‘find’ South Side when it was built. Furthermore, since St. Thomas and now the new Juda have/are being built on the ‘outskirts’ is the logic that those entities (Boards) used the same ‘flawed’ logic as you claim the Champaign Board used. Granted as taxpayers our investment in those schools is restricted to city services but most certainly there had to be at least a couple of competent people who served on those Boards when a decision was made to build on the ‘outskirts’ and I assume though someone please correct me that those Boards chose the locations because they believed these were the best places for long term growth, etc. (Maybe in each case the land was donated thus forcing these two entities to build where they are but I do not believe that is the case.)

The land that was purchased is going to be developed, it will be a HS, apartment complex, strip mall or similar. This will happen in the next few years barring another recession. The City’s plan is to continue to expand and develop in that direction, so it will become some type of developed area. The whole city was at one point prairie land and farm fields. It is, and has been a growing community and in most cases any development demands additional land. This is true also for schools.

It is disingenuous and arrogant to believe as those on this forum have that it is ok for my house or apartment building to use previous prairie/farmland but a new school, etc., should be restricted to some ‘other’ area. Cities grow, hopefully. It is also extremely interesting how the selection and purchase of the land and the transparent process of telling everyone up front has become an issue. (By the way there were countless meetings to discuss the proposed locations that included those in the north, south, west, even Country Fair mall.) I say interesting because on WDWS the Monticello group trying to pass their own referendum indicted that one of the main concerns they heard in voting it down was that no location was designated and there was only an ‘idea’ of where the new HS would be built. So, I guess in Monticello you want to know where the building will go in order to vote yes but in Champaign when you are told the location that will make you vote no. Maybe the Champaign Board should have said ‘vote yes’ and trust us we will buy land and build after you vote yes.

Bottom line is the location is not great but the other alternatives have just as many if not more drawbacks. The city hopefully will grow the current proposal has built in the opportunity to expand and not have these same arguments in 40-50 years of unworkable space. The same complaint that so many express of why didn’t the school board over the past 20-40 years buy all the available properties near Central so that we could expand are now criticizing the current Board for trying to be forward thinking and have space to expand for the foreseeable future. Don’t citizen past Boards for not being forward thinking and then criticize this Board for being forward thinking to build in an area that is most certainly going to grow and expand.

Additionally for those that for some reason continue to think that the current Central location is a good idea please explain how that is reasonable area for now and the next 40-50 years. The same with the other ‘downtown’ locations. If you think that buying currently useful properties/houses and tearing them down is a good use of resources then we have a serious disagreement. Also where are the millions of dollars going to come from to house the students for 2-3 academic years while you rehab Central? The asbestos abatement alone for any future use will cost millions. Buying the old YMCA and using it as a parking area or PE area doesn’t solve the current issue of using West Side Park for PE. Also if you want to declare eminent domain for these structures or those near another ill-conceived location near Franklin then also make sure you are willing to hand carry the notice to toss out the current residents who don’t want to sell and move them to a location where they don’t want to live. Please have the honesty to hold up your hand and say ‘yes, you can count on me to walk up to the door and toss out Grandma Smith on her behind and move her away from a property that she loves.’

I don’t want to pay an additional tax, who does, but we need to have reasonable facilities. I will make no apologies for wanting the HS students in our area to have the best possible educational resources, faculty/staff. That includes dedicate academic curriculum areas and classrooms and reasonable facilities for band, theater, football, etc. Again, this proposal has flaws and if there are better alternatives please suggest them or better yet run for the Board and then have a direct influence on moving any proposal forward.

jlc wrote on November 07, 2014 at 2:11 pm

It's not just a question of the site being on the outskirts of town. It's across the interstate and on the other side of multiple major retail complexes from almost all of the town's population. As bad as North Prospect and Neil are now, add 1000 cars and a handful of buses coming through there every single morning and afternoon. (That's also why it doesn't make sense to compare the use of the land for a school to its use as an apartment complex or strip mall: you wouldn't have all of the residents leaving their apartments at once, or all of the shoppers arriving at the stores at once, but you do have that with the students.)

If growth is going to occur out in that direction, why not build a third high school, small now but with room to expand? It could alleviate the overcrowding at Central enough to renovate it, and then existing and future students could both have high schools in their neighborhoods.

rsp wrote on November 09, 2014 at 11:11 am

Nobody has to use eminent domain, that's a dog whistle. Many people in the Spaulding area were hopeful the area would be redeveloped and that includes a lot of rental property. Some is in poor condition. I lived there over 30 years ago. Same houses are there. Just keep blowing that whistle about the poor people who have to be kicked out of their homes than do it any other way.

In the real world people live within their means, they do things gradually as they can afford them.

awycislo wrote on November 07, 2014 at 11:11 am

I was going to write another big comment on why the location is awful, but I think most of these comments sum it up!  I happily voted no based almost solely on location.  Not only is it bad for the students, it's far worse for those of us who would like to drive north of the interstate.  Traffic is already almost unbearable up there at times, and they want to add this?  No chance.

The arrogance of the board for stating that "the location is not up for discussion" is only going to increase the "no" votes next time.  The location had better be up for discussion, or it's not going to pass.  But then again, the board may get voted out first so they won't have to worry about it.

I didn't actively campaign against the refferendum this time.  If the location doesn't change, you can bet I will next time.

jhilding wrote on November 08, 2014 at 12:11 am

So all of you so up in arms over gridlock, I have to ask, in the middle of the neighborhood it currently sits why isn't this a concern now?  Have you ever tried to pick up a child from Central at 3:20?  Since this gridlock already exists it is ok, moving it to another part of town makes it less palatable?  There is a simple solution that was used by my high school, in yes the evil Chicago Suburbs where we did nothing right, there was a parking pass lottery every year.  This limited the number of people who could park in the school lot to those having passes affixed to their car.  If you didn't have one, your car was towed.  This promoted car pooling and bus riding. It also will reduce traffic.  So let's stop with the gridlock talk, this is an easy issue to overcome.  Also, roads can be built, widened, and new stop lights can be installed, this isn't uncommon when progress occurs from farmland to new use, the city employes people for just that purpose.  Let them earn their money.  

It is time to stop fearing progress.  Perfect solutions don't exist in an imperfect world.  Not everyone will be satisfied with all aspects of anything of this scale.  All told we owe it to the children to give them something to have pride in.  Let's be honest, they are now the second generation not expected to do better than their parents, the least we can do is send them off into the world better prepared than we are now.  We will be able to target better teachers with a new school.  We will be able to use new technology with a new school.  We will prepare our children for what is a difficult world with a new school.  I speak as a parent who will not have a child benefit from this as they will all be done by the time this complete, I have seen what these kids are lacking.  I don't want to see any more be short changed by a community that can do better.  

rsp wrote on November 09, 2014 at 10:11 am

If you think the BOE should start over you could consider this petition.

BROW8155 wrote on November 09, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Of course there will need to be eminent domain claimed for some property in any ‘downtown’ area. Not everyone is going to sell or want to sell. Also, even if a decision was to try and put the school in the same location or at Spaulding Park the city (I believe) has to declare eminent domain. Is everyone positive they will do that? Those with the city have their own constituent base that may not be in favor of this move.


As far as living within our means, I agree. The issue is where any additional money is going to come from for any upgrade no matter how large or small. Even if we continue to refuse to deal with the real issue and try and remodel the current Central, there is millions to be spent on asbestos abatement before one additional educational opportunity takes place. Also, again what is the plan for 2-3 academic years to house the students and how much money will that cost.

rsp wrote on November 09, 2014 at 10:11 pm

The only reason they had for using eminent domain at the Spaulding-Judah site was to put in multiple sports fields all at once. There is no reason to do that. They can be put in gradually and the properties can be bought over time. Judah is being used as a school now, and when they move out it could be utilized as a third high school for around 6 million. The gym there is only a few years old, and there is a field behind it. Just that alone could take the crowding away.

As far as Central goes the work they keep talking about there, it's going to be done anyway. They are going to put ac in it but not until they get a new high school. The other work there will get done and then they will move more kids in there. Just like they did at Columbia.

Remember how Columbia was so unsafe for kids the had to build a new school so Stratton was built next door? Now the Dr. Howard kids may be moving into Columbia, because it's safer than the school the BOE wanted them to wait in for the other schools to get paid off.

Local Yocal wrote on November 09, 2014 at 5:11 pm
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Tweak this: The bond referendum was advertised at $149 million. With the additional $80 million dollars of finance charges, it's actually a $230 million dollar referendum with the school district in debt into the 2030's; when, by that time, it will need to hire more teachers to keep class sizes manageable. 

These massive construction projects produce no new local jobs for local residents and it's the bank that is laughing all the way to the,... mirror. 

BROW8155 wrote on November 09, 2014 at 11:11 pm

In response to rsp – so let’s kick the can down the road. Let’s try and put a HS right back in a land-locked location, just like now. There will need to be major construction for the roads in the Spaulding Park area, where is that magic money. Judah has a small population and is not in any way set up for a HS for more than the current enrolment, remember, they are growing and moving, to the edge of town where they can expand, which sounds like a reasonable solution. (St. Thomas also selected an area on the edge of town, where they can expand, maybe both of the decisions for St. Thomas and Judah were foolish to look at areas where they can expand, right.) So the idea is that we will spend multi-millions for school at Spaulding area, still not have sports facilities and other issues and then buy the surrounding property over time at an increased cost than today. Where does that money come from and who manages the properties and what fees are associated with it? We will still have the same insanity of busing kids all over Champaign for almost all sports. Furthermore, if there is some other money to buy these properties, and as you promised there is no need to concern ourselves with eminent domain, will you then lead the charge in 5-10 years to pass the next referendum for the sports facilities? Do I understand that you will vote for that at some point in the future, you just will not vote for it now, seems odd.

Also, I ask again, why has virtually every other Champaign school been built in locations that allowed for expansion, including the new ’50-year’ old HS. There is no debate regarding Centennial from a facilities standpoint because it was purposefully built in a location, with additional property for expansion. Has every Board been so misguided in making these previous recommendations?

AreaMan wrote on November 10, 2014 at 9:11 am
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How is it "insane" to bus ATHLETES less than a mile to facilities, but "sane" to bus ALL STUDENTS (or 66% of them) three miles to the school? You can't have buses be both the scourge of the current situation, and the solution to the traffic problems in the Interstate Drive scenario.

Champaignite wrote on November 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Just to be clear (and a little late to the party), the comments that Judah and STM built on the edges of town are poor comparisons to the Unit 4 debaccle.  Both Judah and STM pull kids from surrounding communities all over Champaign County.  Central does not have kids attending from Mahomet, Philo, Rantoul, and everywhere in between like those schools do.  The fact that they are located where they are is hardly germane to the Central issue because there are very logical reasons for them to be where they are because of who they serve.  Proposed Central location, not so much.

As far as the eminent domain issue goes, if I remember correctly I heard at some point that that the district was going to survey the owners of the properties around Judah, Franklin, Spaulding Park area to se if they were interested in selling.  Did that happen?  If so, were the results ever shared with the public?  How much did the district pay the consultantns, attorneys, whoever to do the survey?  How much did the sitrct spend rto do a "study" on a site that they never intended to use anyway if Ms. Bonnett's comments are accurate?

BROW8155 wrote on November 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

The main difference is that one type of bussing is state mandated. A large number of students at any HS current or future will need to have a bussing option. If there were and had been proper facilities/equal facilities between the two HS we would not have been and continue bussing students throughout the city for sport participation. The facilities issue is not problematic for the Centennial part of the equation, because the school dist. bought land and the HS was built in an area/location where facilities could expand. Thus it is foolish to continue to build/rebuild at the same or similar location just to have this self-inflected wound continue to be a problem for decades to come.

As far as St. Thomas and Judah, I did not ever hear, one time, the expression that the location on the edge of town was because they have a small percentage of their student population that come from communities such as Mahomet, Rantoul, etc. Though there are some of those students, what I recall reading was that the sites were selected so that the schools could hopefully grow and add additional classroom and other amenities, sports facilities, etc. Again, maybe the land was donated but that is not my understanding. Please if someone is/was on the Boards of those entities when the decisions were made on location please correct me if my belief that the location was primary made based on cost of land and to allow for room for growth.

Further, please correct me I’m wrong but until the new Central HS has become such an issue, that virtually every other school building in Champaign was built on the ‘edge’ of town in places where the population will grow and there is room for expansion. Has virtually every other decision across decades of building schools been incorrect?

AreaMan wrote on November 11, 2014 at 11:11 am
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I feel that the supporters of Interstate Drive are still missing the point when it comes to discussing the "edge" of town -- it's not so much that it's at the edge of town, as that it is at THE INACCESSIBLE EDGE of town. Prospect and Neil Streets north of I-74 have so many traffic lights that it's impossible to achieve the volume of vehicle throughput that the gridded network of streets south of I-74 can. Additionally, there is no option for those who choose to walk or bike to school (thus reducing traffic demand and engaging in active transport -- part of a healthy lifestyle).