Updated: It's back to Interstate Drive

Updated: It's back to Interstate Drive

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CHAMPAIGN — For the second time in five months, voters will decide whether a new Central High School will be built on 80 acres of farmland in northernmost Champaign.

That much became official at 7:51 p.m. Wednesday, when the Champaign Park Board voted down Unit 4's request to put a new school on 40 acres of Dodds Park.

The vote — 3 against, 2 for — left Champaign schools Superintendent Judy Wiegand "disappointed but not surprised."

"April 7, we move forward with Interstate Drive," Wiegand said afterward. "Again, now that we know Dodds is certainly not on the table because there was at least a public vote this time around; we will just move forward. It's about the students."

This time around, the feeling was doubly disappointing for school officials — a similar request was shot down by the same park board last summer without a formal vote being taken. That led Unit 4 to ask voters in November to support constructing a new Central at Interstate. The ballot question failed, but by just 1,200 votes, leaving district officials hopeful April 7 would be different.

In recent weeks, after momentum behind the Central-at-Dodds idea seemed to grow, Wiegand asked park board members to reconsider their July rejection. But her second attempt came with two new twists: She asked for fewer acres (from 60 to 40) and a public discussion on the topic (unlike 2014).

That forum happened two weeks ago but didn't play out like Central-at-Dodds supporters hoped it would, with more community members speaking in opposition of the idea than for it.

Then came Wednesday.

Needing at least four "yes" votes to pass, the measure got two — from park board President and Champaign mayoral candidate Joe Petry, and commissioner Alvin Griggs.

Voting no: Barb Kuhl, Tim McMahon and Jane Solon.

Said Kuhl: "Unfortunately, there's not enough time to research and resolve all the issues surrounding the request for Dodds prior to the April 7 election date. I don't want to influence anyone's votes positively or negatively and there's just not enough time. There's too many elements surrounding this issue, and I don't think it's fair to the residents to not have those researched and determined before voting for the referendum."

The "elements" Kuhl referred to include land-use restrictions on the park, tied to the 1970s development of the Greenbelt Bikeway, which was purchased in part using federal grant money.

That wasn't the only reason commissioners cited for voting no.

Solon said the majority of constituents she'd heard from were opposed to the idea. She also warned that agreeing to a swap of Unit 4 land for a portion of Dodds would force students to wait even longer for a new school.

"We have kind of dragged this on forever and the students are the ones who are suffering because we can't commit to a site. It could take years for Dodds," Solon said. "Students do need a new high school and for that reason I'm voting 'no' so Unit 4 can move on and look at other sites."

McMahon questioned why the discussion was even being brought back to the table after the park board rejected the school district's first request. He listed several reasons Dodds isn't the right site for Central.

Among them: There's no guarantee neighboring Parkland College is on board; swapping Dodds would be considered "bailing the school board out"; and his belief that the land requests won't stop at 40 acres.

"They asked for 60 acres in July, but they're going to ask for more down the road, in my opinion," he said. "No means no. Hopefully, (the request) doesn't come back."

Before the decisive roll call Wednesday, Petry acknowledged that his stance would be "unpopular," adding his "yes" vote means he wants the Central-at-Dodds dialogue to continue. Griggs said he does, too.

"Our community is only as good as our public school system and if we strive to be a world-class community, we must make our schools exceptional. For that reason, I believe Dodds Park must remain in consideration as a site for a new high school," Petry said. "Dodds Park has been used for soccer in the past, but it could be used for an equally important alternative public use in the future.

"It is conceivable that for our community, a public high school is an even better use of that particular parcel of public land than soccer fields."


Here is live coverage from the meeting on Wednesday:

The Champaign Park District board decided tonight whether to allow for a portion of its Dodds Park to be used for a new Central High School. For the measure to pass, at least four of five park board commissioners needed to vote in favor of the Champaign school district’s request to build at Dodds. It didn't happen: 2 yes votes, 3 no votes.

News-Gazette staff writer Nicole Lafond provided updates from the meeting on her Twitter account. Click here to follow along.

The meeting started at 7 p.m.

Want to weigh in? Give Tom Kacich your take here or get a Letter to the Editor published here

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pattsi wrote on March 11, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Here is an interesting scenario--this board votes no. New board votes yes after the 7 April election. If referendum passes, then the move is to Dodds. If referendum fails, another try March 2016, which gives time for any questions about Dodds via IDNR. Such fun and intrigue.

ProParks wrote on March 12, 2015 at 12:03 am

I found out about this issue from a friend's Facebook page.   Can someone answer some simple questions for me?How is it a win/win? Residents have a fully developed park, complete with soccer fields, ball diamonds, water, sewer, I assume concession, field lighting and parking right?School board wants to offer undeveloped land without any developed amenities with either equal or slightly greater area.  My question is, who foots the bill for the development of the traded land? How is the parks department funded? Do they have a dedicated tax? What are the costs to bring in sewer, water, and facilities? Would it require a bond or tax ballot issue to develop or did the school district proposed to foot that bill? How long will it take to be developed? How many organizations are currently using the established park? How many kids, adults, soccer, baseball, softball organizations going to be displaced and for how long? Realizing I don't have nearly all the details, can you share with me how a proposal like that is a win/win for ALL effected residents? With the limited detail I am able to find online, it looks to me as an unaffected individual with no emotional ties either way, the park commissioners who voted against this proposal were both fiscally responsible and prudent in their decision.  They did the correct thing. 

Unit4Dad wrote on March 12, 2015 at 7:03 am

I appreciate that you are just now finding out about this.  There is a lot of information from many sources where you can bring yourself up to date on this issue.  Those sources include NG articles, opinions, editorials.  They also include going to the Unit4 site to look at all of their documents from the past several years.

I do have one question for you, and others who oppose Dodds such as folks from REWIND/KCC:  why is it okay with many people to take parks elsewhere, such as Spalding, Beardsley, Bristol, and/or Bridgewater, but not Dodds?  Is it that those parks are located in areas where the typical user is not someone who can afford to pay the outrageous fees for the Illinois Futbol Club league?  Is it because the average home price is so low in those areas, or that more of them are rented rather than owned by the people that live in them?

Joe American wrote on March 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

The majority of the soccer games at Dodds are NOT conducted by the IFC league, they're Park District leagues. Do your homework.

And your additional comments trying to stir the class warfare pot are comparing apples to oranges and not worthy of a response.

rsp wrote on March 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

Beardsley won't work because of the power station and some other things in that area. So that's not an option.

What's being talked about with Bristol is a neighborhood that the City of Champaign is tearing down anyway. It's just a question of what goes back in there. A new mixed use complex owned by someone in another state? They were talking about some businesses but I don't know. They are slowly moving people out. Very slowly.

Which leaves Spalding. I like Spalding as a park and as a solution. I used to live by it. Judah Christian will be empty soon. I think we should consider using it as a bridge program until we get some debt paid down, ease overcrowding, and give us time to come together. Maybe use the park as a park and for the kids for PE, and not tear it up. Go with three high schools for a while. Use this as an annex.

As far as the programs at Dodds, try looking into scholarships, the park district offers them for it's programs. Consider donating to them. If they don't have one, ask why not.

randallkrause wrote on March 13, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Personally, I am opposed to Dodds Park. But I am also no more in favour of constructing a new high school at Spalding Park or Beardsley Park either.

I believe that South Side site is the most feasible option for a new high school, because it is already owned by Unit 4 and doesn't require trading any parkland. Spalding Park could instead become an off-site sports sports complex, still owned by the CPD but with shared-facilities for Unit 4. Judah Christian could be purchased by Unit 4, and the land behind Frankling Middle school developed into a stadium and spectator parking deck exclusively for use by the Maroons. Practice athletic fields would be located at the South Side side adjacent to the new building.

Use the Force wrote on March 14, 2015 at 10:03 am

I always wondered why the South Side site hadn't come up before, except that it is a cozy little 2 strand school that parents would like to keep that way. But, that is a large chunk of centrally-located land. South Side and Dr. Howard could be combined in a new elementary at the Dr. Howard site (or, the Central site with parking!).  Even if the district were to demolish and rebuild Central where it is, where would all those students attend school for a year? The old Carrie Busey isn't quite that big, and apparently has become another Unit 4 elementary: The International Baccalaureate Academy. With all the financial decision-making about the schools we need to rebuild, I wonder how that new elementary came to be. 

rsp wrote on March 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

By law the entity that takes over the park would have three years to replace it and have it rebuilt. The value placed is not on just dollars-to-acres, it's also on accessability, size, ability of the previous users to access, etc. It gets inspected as the project moves forward to comfirm compliance. So for the school to be built at Dodds the BOE would have to commit to rebuilding the park elsewhere and paying for it. Instead what we heard was that they wanted to negotiate on that point.

MSJ66 wrote on March 12, 2015 at 9:03 am

To the 3 no votes. Thank you very much. To Joe Petry NO votes for mayor and a vote for anyone that runs against you for park board next time. Alvin Griggs same thing for you if you choose to run for another term on the park board. The 3 no folks take pride in the fact you made the correct decision and right action. You will all have my wife and I's vote if you run for another term on the park board. The MAJORITY of people want Dodds to stay in it current state. We will still be voting NO on the referendum.

Joe American wrote on March 12, 2015 at 10:03 am

Yes, I found it very odd that weeks before the election Petry voted "YES" when the majority of the people do not want it to be located at Dodds.  Interesting campaign tactic.

Citizen1 wrote on March 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

One way or the other, at least we know what we're voting on

randallkrause wrote on March 13, 2015 at 7:03 pm

Petry made it very easy for me to cast my vote for mayor. At first he was going to get a yes, now it's an affirmative no. I do not want anyone in office that is so adamant about defying public opinion. We already have someone like that at the head of the Unit 4 school district.

nomad wrote on March 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm
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Thank you park district. The dodds park is heavily in use by the community. Why is unit 4 not looking at spalding?. This keeps central fairly central as well. The pool was shut down to low attendance so, that park if converted to a school does not impact a large amount of public use. Also if put there MTD already has routes.  If is put there it will improve property values and help the economics of stores all around.  I have heard that there is a need for parking for students and the traffic would cause congestion. The problem is solved by banning parking on school property by students. They can walk or take a bus. I did, and so did the parents of students now in central HS. We have overweight kids nowdays. They can survive without a car. How about the bicycle a great invention. The move to intersate drive only benifits realtors and developers and not the people at large.

bambenek wrote on March 12, 2015 at 2:03 pm

The school district DID evalutate the Spalding Park plan, you can see this memo from Judy talking about some of the reasons we didn't move forward with it.


And there are MTD routes that go by the Interstate Drive location, the red line specifically, 2 others are within a few blocks.

AreaMan wrote on March 12, 2015 at 2:03 pm
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The red line is not sufficient to move 66% of Central students that the transportation forecast assumes.

Also, why does the District assume that 66% of students will be taking the bus, when only 34% take it now (according to the in-school survey from spring 2014)?


bambenek wrote on March 12, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I never said it was sufficient, I said it was inaccurate to say NO bus lines are there.

And the 66% estimate was used by the RPC, not us (though I assume we had input to it).  Largely, when crafting assumptions we were on the conservative said so we estimated, in this case, the most # of students we could reasonably expect.  I would still suspect that the number stays in the 30%s, but if we used that number, people would immediately criticize it saying farther out would mean more people might take bus.  A reasonable argument.  And legally, we have to provide bus service for anyone 1.5 miles or farther away from school whether they take the bus or not.  In fact, 66% almost sounds like the number of ALL students that are 1.5 miles or farther away and inside the MTD service area, so it's basically assuming all eligible students take the bus which obviously won't happen but no one can in turn criticize us for underestimating.  (Though I'll have to confirm that).

That said, these estimates don't take into account the redistricting that WILL occur with a new high school which will change the boundaries of who goes to what high school.

AreaMan wrote on March 12, 2015 at 3:03 pm
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That makes sense, and I can understand why you would want to look at the maximum-use case when forecasting potential bus use. On the flip side, this is also the minimum-use case for automobile traffic, and these are the numbers used for the trip distribution analysis!

My issue with the location is that there are only five inlets into the north Champaign area: At I-74 and Mattis, Prospect, Neil, and Market, and also at I-57 and Olympian. All of these intersections are at least one mile from the proposed school, meaning that traffic will be choked off at a distance that will funnel all traffic onto the same roads. The analysis only considered two of these intersections (functionally, Neil & Marketplace and Prospect & Olympian).

Additionally, the analysis for traffic along these roads is a simple cost/distance analysis, with the cost being the posted speed limit. No stop signs or traffic lights are considered. So all of the travel time estimates are off, way off. The unsynchronized traffic lights on north Prospect and Neil are going to create headaches for everyone (students on the buses too).

Finally, the location reduces choice (no walking, cycling, or being dropped off a block or two away and walking the last little bit) and prioritizes vehicle use to the point that I think it goes against the Consent Decree Settlement Agreement.

rsp wrote on March 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm

The red only goes by part of the day, limited service. The busses would still have to be completely rerouted to service the school there, not incorporated into a route.

randallkrause wrote on March 14, 2015 at 3:03 am

The problem with Spalding Park is that Franklin Middle School would need to be demolished to provide even the minimum amount of outdoor recreation space (per the Keep Central Central proposal published on their Website). Yet nobody has offered any options for replacing Franklin M.S.. That doesn't sound like a particularly ideal scenario to be stuck without a middle school in order to build a new high school. We need to have better contingency plans in place.