Updated: Dr. Howard now in mix for Champaign ballot proposal

Updated: Dr. Howard now in mix for Champaign ballot proposal

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CHAMPAIGN — In April, Champaign's Unit 4 will ask taxpayers for $144 million to build a new Dr. Howard Elementary and Central High School, construct additions to Centennial High School and alter and repair the existing Central building.

The bond issue proposal, which school board members will vote on Monday night, asks for $5 million less than the one that came up short at the polls in November, yet includes work on two facilities that weren't included in the plan two months ago.

How? With a couple of cuts to the old plan, which district officials outlined for The News-Gazette on Friday:

— The new Central would still be built on 80 acres of farmland the district purchased in northernmost Champaign — unless Dodds Park becomes available, Superintendent Judy Wiegand said Friday — and will cost $94.5 million, a drop from the $98 million proposed in November.

The deduction comes from removing the costs of furniture, fixtures and equipment ($2.8 million) from the proposal and placing them on the district's operational costs budget. Also put on hold: plans for turf on the Maroons' new athletic fields at Interstate Drive.

— There will be no renovations at Centennial, only the needed additions, which the board anticipates will cost $18.5 million. The additions will include space for the career and technical education programs and 12 additional classrooms for science labs and other subjects. There will also be an expansion from the cafeteria to the courtyard, and the outdoor courtyard will be filled in.

In 2025, when the district gains access to 1 percent sales tax revenue, officials will take a second look at the renovations needed at Centennial, Wiegand said.

— Dr. Howard, the district's oldest current school building at 105, will be demolished and rebuilt on its existing site for $15 million. The new elementary school — a K-5, not K-8, as had been proposed in recent months — will be the same size as Bottenfield Elementary: between 49,000 and 50,000 square feet, with three strands at a capacity of 425 students.

— The current Central building on West University Ave. will be repurposed, with alterations and renovations totalling $16 million. The district will install an HVAC heating and cooling system, as well as renovate portions of the building to accommodate its new tenants — those who now occupy the Mellon Administrative offices, Novak Academy and the Family Information Center (at the former Columbia School building).

The district is also considering housing a new Entrepreneur Center at the renovated Central building, which would include a middle school-level STEM academy and other specialized programs.

The lower price tag and addition of facilities gives the community the chance to get "more bang for our buck," as school board Vice President Jamar Brown put it Friday.

"We listened to what the community asked for. We did a poll of the 'no' votes and what came back was a lot of people wanted Dr. Howard, cost was an issue, location was an issue. We went back to our architects and said we really need this cost to come down; that's definitely at the top of the list," Brown said. "We asked what could we get for fewer dollars and ultimately this is the plan we have all come up with, so we can get more projects done with less money overall.

"And the addition of Dr. Howard may bring voters who were unhappy about that into the vote."

Addressing the $5 million in cuts, Brown said the board is confident the items removed are ones that will hurt the least.

"I think when we looked at what our biggest needs were — capacity and programming — we did not cut in those areas," he said. "For what we have and what we needed to get done for the community, at this point we have made the right cuts."

Once the school board votes on the new proposal Monday night, the district will have 85 days to get voters behind it, which Wiegand is confident will go smoothly.

She was quick to point out Friday how slim the margin of defeat was in November — 52.3 percent to 47.6 percent.

"There were certainly a number of people in the community that thought the referendum on Nov. 4 was going to fail miserably and I think we did an outstanding job of getting the information out to the public and that showed itself in the result we had, with more people coming out and voting 'yes' than expected," she said. "So the awareness is certainly there and I believe we really changed the question from: 'Do we need a new high school?' to 'When will we have a new high school?' It is not a question of 'if' but 'when.'"

If the enough taxpayers vote "yes" on April 7, a portion of the current group of Unit 4 fourth-graders can look forward to attending a brand-new Central High School. Classes there would likely begin in the fall of 2019, Wiegand said Friday.

Further out, Wiegand said the district's focus after this round of facilities would be to make changes at South Side Elementary and the middle schools, specifically Edison.

Overall, Brown is optimistic the community will be receptive to the new proposal.

"I think when the public looks at this, they will say 'they did listen to us, they heard us.' Everyone won't get everything they want, but overall we listened, so I go into it with positive vibes," he said. "I feel very confident we listened to the public. We didn't come back with a small change, we listened and showed we are very flexible and willing to try to accommodate as many people in the district as possible."

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787 wrote on January 09, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Just like with the White House, bad news that they don't want to be noticed is released late on Friday night....


renee wrote on January 09, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Your cynicism might be overshadowing your view of what is happening here.  The "friday bad news" release mentality went by the wayside with the advent of social media.  If you truly believe that the school district tried to bury information, perhaps you should check out all the publicity and the video publishing of the meetings.  They have been very transparent in their communication of these revisions along with how they arrived at this point.  

Ralph wrote on January 10, 2015 at 10:01 pm

The MTD is under tax caps like most other governmental units.  They can only increase taxes each year by the increase in the Consumer Price Index and new assessed valuation.  The only way to increase taxes further is by referenda like Unit 4 is proposing.

rsp wrote on January 10, 2015 at 10:01 pm

The catch is they charge the school district for their portion of costs. They estimate those costs to go up considerably for the day-to-day transport to and from school. The school district doesn't have any plan for how to pay for all these higher costs, even though they have to mean higher taxes to cover those too. Would this be a good time to talk about the pensions? You know, the ones the state is going to ask the local districts to start paying?

Joe American wrote on January 09, 2015 at 8:01 pm

^ what 787 said.

xb wrote on January 09, 2015 at 6:01 pm

The existing Central would be remodeled at a cost of $16 million and house district administration (now in the Mellon Building), Novak Academy and the Early Childhood Center (now at the former Columbia School building).

Do you mean to say the Family Information Center?  That is in Columbia but the Early Childhood Center is in the Early Childhood building a block or so south of there.

renee wrote on January 09, 2015 at 7:01 pm

I am impressed that they listened to the voters and revised their plans.  They have addressed many of the concerns that led people I know to vote "NO."  Let's all get behind this and support the kids!

Joe American wrote on January 09, 2015 at 8:01 pm

So let me get this straight.  By "addressing the concerns" of people who have kids who go to Dr. Howard, we need to support this?  Sounds like compounding bad over bad.

Still voting NO.

renee wrote on January 09, 2015 at 9:01 pm

It is not about people who have kids who go to Dr. Howard.  That school building is probably the oldest in the district and the most in need of renovation.  Just as a homeowner decides to spend money on his/her home based on priorities, the district needs to upkeep the building for ALL our children based on priorities.

loopillini wrote on January 09, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I voted yes the first time around and will vote yes again. This needs to happen, the children in our community need this to happen.

MSJ66 wrote on January 09, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I don't care what they decide to do. I will vote no. My taxes are too high as it is. This will not be the only tax increase. Anyone who thinks the MTD (who increases their assessment every year as it is) won't jump on the transportation side of any new school plan and want a huge increase in the taxes they get has clearly not looked at their tax bill for the MTD every year. Champaign has become a joke with their ever increasing taxes and fees yet still can't seem to have enough money for stuff. My wife and I will be voting no AGAIN and we will continue to encourage others to vote no as well.

readone wrote on January 09, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I will be voting NO again.  They did not address my concerns.  I still think the location is a bad place for a school.  I have no problem with it being in the northern part of the city, or on the edge of the city, but I cannot support it at Marketplace.  The only access is through probably the most congested area of town as it is, it will only get worse.
So you build a new high school but you take out all the money for furnishings, kick the can down the road.  When the new high school is completed they will say more is needed to purchase funiture because it is more expensive than they thought it would be.  And of course, transportation costs will be higher, so lets raise taxes again.  And since the MTD will need more and newer busses, let's raise that tax also.  
Dr. Howard will be K-5, not K-8, so now the middle schools will be above capacity and in need of repair, so let's raise more taxes.  
This seems to be never ending, the real estate owners can only afford to pay so much.  At some point someone has to figure out that while all these things are great, we need to stay within a budget and within reason. 

Local Yocal wrote on January 09, 2015 at 10:01 pm
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$144 million tax dollars and what about the finance charges on the building loans? Another $80 million again? Making the actual proposal $224 million tax dollars?

And who are the vendors? Out of towners again? All this construction will produce few local jobs. 

And let's be clear, there is no new money for new teachers. Projecting more kids to populate a new building and remodeled buildings still leaves us with bigger class sizes. There is a building and there is what occurs inside of it. Which is more important?

I guess they heard some of the voters, but that location, location, location. If it was Bonnett's opinion the night of the election that the referendum lost because of the new Central High location, why no change there? And what if they squeak out a win, (The Dr. Howard parents swing the vote) 51%-49% let's say. The District will have successfully divided the community with a lavish building project for sprawl to the north and leaving most kids going to Central stressed to participate in extracurricular activities riding a bus back and forth everyday.

Why can't the taxpayers design what they want, including curricullum?   

BruckJr wrote on January 09, 2015 at 10:01 pm

No means no.

Champaign Guest wrote on January 09, 2015 at 11:01 pm

I actually think the site is better than some of the sites near I-57/I-74/Mattis that were looked at for having multiple ways of getting there:

  • Neil St. straight up to the school
  • Prospect up to Interstate Dr.
  • Mattis/I-57 up to Olympian.

It depends on how the redistricting of attendance boundaries ends up to see what routes are actually reasonable.

In any case, I'm glad to hear that they're putting more emphasis on Dr. Howard and less on Centennial. That was my largest concern with the previous proposal.)

marcusaurelius wrote on January 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

Actually, with some simple planning, you can put the HS there and just not connect it directly to Neil. Make the HS traffic patterns to & from the facility go more east & west and shuttle them down Prospect,  Mattis & Market. It can be done. 


rsp wrote on January 09, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Does the Dr. Howard area have enough parking? I've always wondered about that. I would vote yes for a new Dr. Howard right now if it was done right, because it needs to be done and I don't mind paying for it while we figure everything else out. What I really mind is being asked to pay for a new school in a bad location with no plan for how to maintain it, the increase in transportation costs, more teachers, building costs, etc. Not only will our taxes go up to build the school, but also to keep it up. And they refuse to look at any alternatives.

Commonsenseman wrote on January 10, 2015 at 8:01 am

more Lies, so now they will get 5 milion for furniture elsewhere and somehow this pays for a new Dr Howard and all this?  Look between the lines, they want to make Central a new administrative buiding with AC.  When does it end, this School administation needs to be fired, all of them, look on the web site and see how many of them there are.  This is a top heavy administation.  They want a new buiding for themselves too?

Heres a simpler plan, build a new Dr Howard, add AC to Central, remodel part of it.  Dont raise our taxes, firing the bloated administation will save some money, close  the "Family Information Center"  and other useless programs to save money and leave us alone.

This Superintendent doesnt care, home owners will face higher taxes, those on a fixed income especially retirees wil suffer most, renters will face higher rent, and costs go up for goods purchased here.  The  school said after sales tax went up they wouldnt ask for more money, that obviosuly was  a lie.

Do you have any kids in Unit 4, notice how they are constantly pushing a political agenda, its indoctrination not education

Because of Unit 4s ineptness, many parents flee to private school , Unit 4 gets money for kids they dont teach, they should have plenty of money

can you afford a few hundred dollars a year, every year? for people who dont listen or care what you think

Citizen1 wrote on January 10, 2015 at 8:01 am

Not reasonable.  Obviously will go over budget with finance charges alone.  Putting the school in an unacceptable location merely compounds the mistake of buying the land in the first place.  Will vote no again and will actively campaign against this time.

Local Yocal wrote on January 10, 2015 at 9:01 am
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"Look between the lines, they want to make Central a new administrative buiding with AC."

So they could be retrofitting Central with air conditioning! So much for that excuse to build a new building. You know, I don't like the paint color of my house, maybe I'll build a new one.....

jlc wrote on January 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm

I appreciate the inclusion of Dr. Howard, and the honest admission that A/C will have to be added to Central no matter what is done with the building. Those are two big improvements over the previous proposal.

But the location is still the biggest problem. It's on the edge of town, promoting outward sprawl; it's not served by MTD in any practical sense; and it's adjacent to some of the biggest traffic bottlenecks in town already. The cost of building the structure is one thing; the full cost to the community is another.

pattsi wrote on January 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Why not a thought problem to ask if the square footage needed at a HS is really 225,000 sq ft when the delivery of education is moving/changing so rapidly. There is praise for the computational work being done at Kenwood. This ought to be a signal of these upcoming delivery changes on the horizon.  I think of the changes of teaching sugery procedures now being used through digital and virtual means. Does this mean we can use such approaches to teaching welding and other vocational technologies? So far I have missed hearing these conversations.

Dan Sholem wrote on January 10, 2015 at 2:01 pm

The Unit 4 Board Moving $2.8 Million in Furniture & Equipment to the Operating Budget and eliminating an artificial turf field is a disingenuous (at best) move to appear to be cost conscious. The Furniture & Equipment would eventually be bought whether leased or purchased with borrowed funds. The artificial turf field actually saves maintenance dollars in the long run. (See UHS) Because of the field's durability, it is the equivalent of having two or three fields for practice....The Board seems to be grasping at straws to keep their North of Market Place site on the table when the community sentiment is trending in the other direction...The Smart Move would be for the Board to bring a revised in-fill location proposal to the community following April's School Board Election.

local reader wrote on January 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I wonder why energy efficiency and sustainable design have not been a bigger part of the discussion and plan. Building a school with a smaller footprint with geothermal heating/cooling, solar panels, a green roof would help reduce long term energy costs and provide energy independence. School gardens could be included to be used for science and family & consumer science classes as well as supplying locally grown foods for the cafeteria. The U of I is doing this successfully with the Sustainable Student Farm . The Department of Energy’s Energy Smart Schools reports that K-12 schools spend more than $8 billion annually on energy, making energy the second highest operating expenditure for schools after personnel costs. Pursuing a LEED certified school building would save tax payer money in the long run and we could be a model school that demonstrates our focus on excellence in both education and community. 

The proposed high school seems to be based on the old and outdated model that created big sprawling buildings and campuses on the edge of town. The U.S. Department of Education says:  “If located far from neighborhood centers, however, schools no longer serve as the hub of community life. Students, teachers and parents cannot walk or bicycle to school, but must drive, leading to traffic congestion, commuting costs, road-building expenses, poorer air quality and more dangerous streets for those students who do walk.” Instead we could build on our reputation for being national leaders in Smart Growth and excellence and create a new high school that shines as a model for other communities. This proposal seems like a missed opportunity to move forward into this new century creating a better future for our children and community.

chief21 wrote on January 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

After that Unit 4 sponsorship of the out of control demonstration, and blocking the streets during school hours...coupled with " we are proud of you" statements......I will not support one dime for this district

Commentors should realize that Unit $ is a taxing body, just like the MTD...they absolutely DO NOT care about the financial pain of tax increases....it's not an issue. Bloated administration, ridiculous waste like the Family Center, and  walls and waves of administrators with raises well above the rate of inflation.

I promise to Vote NO..and go door to door in my neigborhood..

Rex Bradfield wrote on January 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

That is $1.11 millon dollars per day of consideration by the voters until the April vote.

This is a huge amount of money with huge debt service costs, the voters should be allowed time to consider and find other options.  The State is considering changing the funding formula, will that have any effect, etc.?

And for crying out loud, the only reason for rushing this is NOT because of possible increase in construction costs, but rather the smaller vote turn out.  Why are they afraid of voter turn out, after all it is the VOTERS money, not theirs.  Stop being cute and just figure out many possible solutions and find one that fits the needs and fits the pocket books.

They are on the way to taxing senior citizens out of the homes they have struggled their whole lives for and just want to live in peace on fixed incomes.

Also, the traffic access will be nightmare to get there.  And shoplifting and retain cost increases resulting from all the students in the Wal-mart, Meijers, etc. stores cannot help but increase.  Look at what happened to the drug store across from the Urbana Jr. High School on Vine.  It simply could not keep up the the security needs and closed.

rsp wrote on January 10, 2015 at 11:01 pm

I keep thinking about a separate trade school and the more I think about it the more I like the idea. I've been wondering if it would work as a county high school. It sounds odd at first but schools from the area are sending students to Parkland for those types of classes.

Wouldn't it be more efficient to have one state-of-the-art trade school where they could really learn? Wouldn't that attract jobs to the are too? Cut down on the duplication and waste. Their home school would still be their home school. They could still be on the sports team, band, etc. It would cut down on the numbers in classes so it would be like there were three high schools.

I don't see the rush when there are so many ideas to explore and so many problems coming up that we haven't even begun to prepare for. There isn't even a plan for how to pay for this school if it's built.

Local Yocal wrote on January 11, 2015 at 9:01 am
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The School District Administration is forcing this choice onto the voters when some of their 2013 numbers are as follows:

51% of the third graders do not read up to national norms.58% of the fifth graders do not do math up to national norms.50% of the sixth graders do not do math up to national norms. 45% of the eighth graders do not read up to national norms. The composite ACT score of Unit 4 graduates is 20.8, competing against an average score of 29 for the freshmen class at the U of I.Since 2008, 696 students have dropped out.Since 2006, there have been 474 arrests.  The administration will have to connect the dots as to how giving $80 million tax dollars to a bank in finance charges, and another $144 million more tax dollars to out-of-town construction firms to locate a high school that's harder to get to addresses the above. 

BruckJr wrote on January 11, 2015 at 6:01 pm

You don't seem to understand.  These problems will all go away once Bonnett gets her fancy new toys.

Rex Bradfield wrote on January 11, 2015 at 9:01 am

Let's cut to the chase, and do our jobs as responsible voters and elect people who can do the job at the State level.  By Constitution, the State is to fund 50% of the eduction costs, but because of irresponsible and incompetent representation at all levels that is probably less than 30% and inconsistent at best.  Every time I have run for office I want to puke when I hear my oppontents regurgitate "support education, help the needy, ad nausum ..." and then they get elected because we as the voters don't go out and vote, or vote for those who haven't been doing the job, simply because of a "D" or "R" after their name.  Once in, their most important job is being most important, and we suffer for 2 or 4 or 6 more years with OUR lack of responsibility as voters.

Stop voting for people who want to buy the votes of those who are supported by the government, don't seek to work, and complain because they are "targeted".  Vote for those who will fund education completely and FIRST, and then and only then, if there is any money left, use it for someing else, rather than give it to those who can work, but simply chose to exercise the "Palm up" skills.  The local party chairman best described the problem, when listing the qualifications for the replacement for the vacated State Senate Seat......"..we need to make sure to appoint someone who can be re-elected.." NO, NO, NO....you need to think about qualifications and the ability to do the job first.  Political office is the only JOB where qualifications do not matter, only the being able to be controlled by others matters.  If the job is done properly, then the re-election will take care of itself.

We only need to pay attention to the TV ads to see that taxation is already reached its limit and more.  Companies pay millions of dollars to buy advertisements to try and represent those who, cannot or have not paid taxes because of other priorieties.  Those adds mean there are alot of people who had to spend their money on food, or heat, or clothes rather than taxes and it is getting worse.  We can't tax them into poverty.


concerned22 wrote on January 12, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Dr. Howard being rebuilt could help the overcrowding at the K-5 level...but they are choosing to keep it the same capacity. The district built new buildings and rennovate several more in the last several years with sales tax money but they didn't build them to meet the current needs of the district. This resulted in portables being added to several buildings the SAME YEAR the new buildings were opened. POOR PLANNING.  I do not trust this district. They will be back to ask for money for a k-8 building because the elementary schools are overcapacity...and they are and have been. The middle schools are too. Use the money wisely. No doubt they need it. How will they defer any money to building and operations? If they have that money in that fund then there's a problem. More questions to be asked. What about staffing? Materials? 

It's like tunnel vision. The goal was Central HS. It feels like they are digging in their heels on this and aren't THINKING big picture. Or they have a big picture they just keep a secret....i.e.build k-8 building next to Central later with money we ask for after showing how overcrowded all the elementary schools are and have let many of them go so unrennovated and updated for so long they are falling down so badly that the parents and community demand we do something to help the poor children.

It's a manipulative game they play. 

CLS wrote on January 16, 2015 at 3:01 am

Within two months of a failed ballot we have a plan for Dr. Howard and several other options glommed onto the proposal.  Where did these come from?  Are we ready to make $14 milion decisions based on 2 months of scrambling to appease voters?  Unit 4 states that they have listened to the community however I have not heard of any community meetings or discovery sessions to understand what is important to the community since the community voted NO in November.  What is the school board listening to? 

The November ballot failed becuase Unit 4 either did not understand what is important to the community or did understand but failed to act transparently and effectively communicate the decision process. 

They cannot get money to move forward unless the community votes YES.  If they want the community to vote yes then they need to stop talking and start listening.  We do need more capacity.  How we get that capacity is the sticking point.  This decision will affect the community for centuries.  It is unfortunate that Unit 4 has already purchased land without community acceptance.  Had Unit 4 sought good input earlier perhaps they would not have purchased that land.  Please do not hold this community hostage due to your poor criteria development and decision making skills.