School proposal for April ballot coming Monday

School proposal for April ballot coming Monday

CHAMPAIGN — On Monday, the Champaign Unit 4 school board plans to come forward with a new ballot proposal — one that includes a similar, if not lower, price tag; a plan for Dr. Howard Elementary School, as well as a new Central High School at the Interstate Drive location; renovations to Centennial High School; and a plan for repurposing the current Central.

Figures and specific details won't be presented until then, but school board President Laurie Bonnett, member John Bambenek and several others shared a similar sentiment during a special meeting Monday night: The board does not want to focus on "tweaks;" it wants to craft a brand-new proposal for the April 7 ballot.

"We have listened to all of the feedback from the community, and we are trying to come up with something the community can get behind. The cost of the November referendum was an issue; not including Dr. Howard was an issue; not presenting something for the current Central was an issue. Looking at these ideas is what we have spent our holidays doing," Bambenek said.

"Nothing engages a community quite like an election. That is the single biggest tool by which the community can tell us what they want," he said.

"It's up to the community to tell us what they want, and I'd like to come up with something that is passable by 60 percent," he said.

Monday night was the first time since the $149 million bond referendum failed in November that the board has held a public discussion about changing the proposal and placing it on the ballot during the consolidated election this spring. Over the past two months, board members and district administrators have been discussing ways to tweak the proposal to accommodate for "no" votes from November.

During their meeting, each board member shared a general outline of hopes for the ballot question moving forward.

Bonnett said she definitely wants to see it placed on the ballot again in April, but she needs "the price tag to come down."

"I am still in support of the north site where growth is occurring in this community. I would also support adding Dr. Howard and making adjustments to the Centennial proposal. The only way to get Dr. Howard on the ballot is to adjust that side of things," she said. "I'd like to see Dr. Howard built on a new site with three strands, so we will probably have to cut back on amenities for Central and Centennial."

Board member Jamar Brown was in alignment with Bonnett's ideas, adding he would like to see "more done with our dollars" and asking community members to focus more on what's best for the kids, not location.

"We can't pause at this point. Pausing is what got us into the position we are in now. There will always be people who aren't in agreement with one aspect of what we decide," he said. "Right now we have people in this room who aren't so hot on the location. Next week we could have people in this room that are all for the location. The only way to know what people want is to keep moving forward and letting people vote."

Ileana Saveley shared her support for either keeping the price the same or bringing costs down, but Lynn Stuckey said making cuts could "slap us in the face five years down the road."

"As board members our actions must be congruent with our words. I am supportive of a new Central, but to bring costs down we will need to make cutbacks," she said. "We need to be very cautious about what we cut and how we cut it. There are parts of this whole discussion I am in favor of, and other parts I am very concerned about."

In addressing the current Central building, member Kristine Chalifoux said the next referendum must include a plan for repurposing the century-old building. Chalifoux presented suggestions that included creating a Entrepreneur Center there that houses a middle school level STEM academy, as well as a health center and an actions/newcomers program. The Novak Academy and the Mellon Administrative Center should also be moved to the site, she said.

"We are not planning to leave the current Central as an empty building. We have run out of space in this community, and there would be just as many people in there then as there are now," she said. "There are a lot of needs. We need to consolidate our administrative buildings; we need a health center; we need to alleviate middle-school overcrowding, and there are ways to address this."

Chalifoux also said she would like to see a plan for Dr. Howard, but said she doesn't care whether it would be on the existing site or a new one.

"We need quality buildings and quality education. That's what this comes down to. I've said it before, Dr. Howard is a great place with great kids, teachers and administrators, but the building needs some help," she said. "I would be in support of building a smaller three-strand Dr. Howard and certainly looking into building another elementary school in the future."

Looking at location, member Kerris Lee said he would have really liked to see Dodds Park brought to the table, but said the board has to move forward with Interstate Drive because no other opportunities have presented themselves at this point. Bambenek echoed the sentiments, adding that when his term is up in April, he will endeavor to get money from Congress and the Capitol Development Board so construction of certain facilities could be done in phases when additional funds come through, pending passage of a proposal.

"I can't commit to a dollar amount because we have to pass the referendum first, but that is something I will commit to doing because I'm in a position to do it after April," he said. "So the one piece of advice I'd give to architects is to design the facilities to keep flexibility in mind — like if for instance we build a K-5 with the intention of making a 6-8 wing; that would be most appreciated."

Several community members also came out to share their thoughts on issues surrounding the proposal, including talks about location, building one high school rather than two and even postponing putting a proposal on the April ballot in order to make more time for deliberation.

In addition to sharing referendum ideas at Monday's board meeting, district officials will present information about the costs of funding portables if a proposal does not pass, at the recommendation of Stuckey.

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):2015 election

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parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on January 06, 2015 at 8:01 am

The only way for the Taxpayer to move forward in a dead-in-the-water (with respect to a so-called "developing area") site like Olympian Drive is to require all members of the board to admit their wrong-doing in buying the property in a manner of an under the table transaction with the Atkins Group.  What a travesty and waste of taxpayer's pocketbook.

IlliniwekMerica wrote on January 06, 2015 at 8:01 am

They just don't get it.

I think I share the views of the vast majority of people who voted no in November; I'm all in for a new high school, new grade schools, and higher education spending in general and I completely understand that my property taxes will be going up. 

The biggest negative is that the north location is awful enough to outweigh all the positives.  I-74 creates an artificial barrier to any mass development on that side of Champaign.  Traffic is already a nightmare on Propest and Neil during all daylight hours and a new school would double the problem. Kids will not be able to walk to school safely over the interstate (even if they don't walk to the current Central, that still needs to be possible as transportation options evolve).

This location also ruins any chance of redevelopment for the core of Champaign. I'm not sure if everyone has noticed (/s), but the Bradley street corridor and surrounding neighborhoods of Champaign are a violent dump.  If we keep encouraging growth north and south of the city center, there will be no incentive to redevelop the area and help out the lower income families and homeowners that live in this section of the city. 

Change the location, and you'll get my vote (I can only assume, but many other votes as well)

awycislo wrote on January 06, 2015 at 9:01 am

"We have listened to all of the feedback from the community, and we are trying to come up with something the community can get behind. The cost of the November referendum was an issue; not including Dr. Howard was an issue; not presenting something for the current Central was an issue. Looking at these ideas is what we have spent our holidays doing," Bambenek said.


The bolded portion is a lie.  LOCATION IS AN ISSUE.

I'm with those who would vote for it in another location.  I'm not in favor of destroying the ability to drive north of I-74 when it's already barely possible.

The fact that this keeps getting ignored over and over is starting to anger me.  These pathetic "leaders" need to go.


justthefacts wrote on January 06, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Has anyone noticed that the development immediately north of Marketplace is currently expanding? It is obvious that development will contine in the area bounded by Prospect, Market, and Olympian. The high school population north of I-74 will continue to grow. Students will either be traveling south on Market and Prospect, or north on Market and Prospect.

Of course, there is always the Dodds Park site. That would only require abandoning a major public facilty which took millions of dollars and several decades to develop so that some parents would not be required to spend an extra 20 minutes a day in a car with their kids for at most 4 years.

The school board could have incurred an expense to purchase an option for the Interstate Drive site rather than using existing funds to purchase the land. The land will most likely increase in value and could be considered an investment, while an option would be a simple expense and would require more funds later if the land were purchased.

CUTownie wrote on January 06, 2015 at 4:01 pm

The biggest issue was location for most voters.  The fact that the school board continues to use smoke and mirrors to suggest it was not one of the primary issues is wrong.  I'm all for approving the $$ to have 2 top-notch schools - money is not the issue.  I have no doubt that they will find a use for Central. Location is the issue followed by the need to do something about Dr. Howard.

Atkins Group own and/or develops the area around North Prospect so I'm sure they would love to see the HS there to help facilitate growth in the area.  It seems as if the area is expanding with business and apartments.  There are some homes out there, but there is also still alot of growth on the south side of town/Savoy and even west around Boulder Ridge/Sawgrass.

I would love to have seen the area around Bradley & Staley/Rising explored.  I think it would be a fairly accessible location for those on the north and south side of town.  Seems like it was mentioned early on and then dropped.

I have a feeling that those opposed to the proposal will be more organized and vocal this time around.  

Lostinspace wrote on January 06, 2015 at 6:01 pm

There are so many people who will cash in if the proposal is approved that their votes will probably carry the day, as they did for the sales tax increase.