Unit 4 candidates offer views on Central High School site

Unit 4 candidates offer views on Central High School site

CHAMPAIGN — Candidates for Unit 4's school board have varied opinions on where Champaign Central High School should be built.

The eight seeking contested seats offered their views Thursday during a forum in the Champaign City Building.

Incumbents Jamar Brown and Kerris Lee voted to purchase the Interstate Drive site and voted to put the proposal on the ballot.

"In 2022, if we do absolutely nothing, we'll have 700 to 800 students that won't have a seat in the classroom," Brown said. "Now that Dodds Park is no longer part of the plan, we need to build a high school. Right now, what's currently available to us is the Interstate site. If something comes to us that is viable and we can work within the time frame, I would be open to look at that."

"I had been a big proponent of Dodds Park and am sad to see it go," Lee said. "Our community will be judged by how well we take care of our seniors and how well we take care of our youth. To do nothing is irresponsible. In terms of travel times and costs, we certainly already have schools that already exist away from the core: Carrie Busey, Barkstall, Booker T. Washington. We have to look at what makes the best decision for our kids."

Azark Cobbs and Alissia Young spoke about the merits of the Interstate Drive site.

"I am a very strong proponent of the Interstate Drive site," Cobbs said. "We spent countless years and studies and steering committees to come up with this decision. Now that we have Dodds behind us, I think pretty much the whole community needs to get behind this and build this high school. Let's all rally and get this referendum passed on April 7."

"There is huge controversy in terms of the Interstate Drive site," Young said. "However, that seems to be the best plan that we have right now, and we don't have much time to continue to wait. I say we go with the plan that we currently have."

Amy Armstrong, Kathy Richards and Kathy Shannon favor a more centralized location for Central High School.

"I'd like to see a round-table discussion with stakeholders, rebuilding bridges that perhaps the current board leadership let fall," Armstrong said. "For me it needs to stay within the city limits, either at the current location or looking back at Spalding."

"I've been vocal about my opposition to the Interstate Drive site," Richards said. "I feel that moving a community institution out of the heart of the city that it serves is shortsighted. I feel that the money that we save now we will be spending year after year in transportation costs and time spent by students and parents traveling to and from that site. If a majority of the electorate wants to build at Interstate, we will build the most awesome school that we can. If they vote no, we can start to explore things like three high schools or maybe a vocational high school and start again." (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misattributed this quote. The News-Gazette regrets the error.)

"I have been a big proponent of in-fill development," Shannon said. "It very important for parents and kids to have a school in the heart of the community. I was very excited about Dodds and am very sorry it is off the table. The Spalding site was my original favorite. I would love to see us explore that again. There are also some plans to build around our current Central site, and it is a wonderful location."

Chris Kloeppel, who supported building at Dodds Park, said the high school site needs to be studied regardless of whether the ballot question is approved.

"We are going to have a new board in some capacity with new members," Kloeppel said. "We are going to have a responsibility whether this referendum passes or not. Let's take a look at the sites and put something into play. We need to analyze the sites. I firmly want the high school at the best possible location."

Jonathan Westfield is running unopposed for a seat on the board.

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Kathy R. wrote on March 12, 2015 at 11:03 pm

With respect, the paragraph above that begins "I've been vocal about my opposition to the Interstate Drive site..." is incorrectly attributed. The comments in that paragraph were made at tonight's forum by me, Kathy Richards.


Mike Howie wrote on March 13, 2015 at 10:03 am
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Thank you for noting this, though I'm sorry you had to. This has been corrected.

Mike Howie

online editor

Debby Auble wrote on March 13, 2015 at 12:03 am

Kerris Lee said " In terms of travel times and costs, we certainly already have schools that already exist away from the core: Carrie Busey, Barkstall, Booker T. Washington." These are elementary schools and they are not built away from the cores. They are built in neighborhoods not barren land. They are built within areas where infrastructure and services were already in place, located centrally to existing transit, near existing recreational & cultural amenities, provide alternatives to driving, take into consideration long-term quality of life service levels, and included strong public participation and support. Some of the rhetoric about overcrowding is prescriptive not descriptive. There is plenty of ground around Centennial that could be used to add to the foot print of that school to eliminate overcrowding that has not been done. And there has been plenty of opportunities that Unit 4 has ignored to expand Central through the years in acquiring property surrounding Central that has been for sale. Nor have they been willing to spend money to update Central to make it more viable yet now seem willing to update it to house other Unit 4 needs but not for students. Vote no. Many people said 30 years ago downtown Champaign was toast as prime developement would go to the ourskirts. We proved that wrong and can prove the current school board wrong. Easy is not always better.

Champaign Co. Firecracker wrote on March 13, 2015 at 9:03 am

What everyone is failing to mention is that the Interstate Drive location is a developing area in our city. There are also homes and apartment complexes being developed in that area between Prospect Avenue & Interstate Drive. Transportation by MTD already travels in that area serving the shopping district and the developing communities. It’s imperative to have a new High School built that doesn’t have limitations with respect to space, development, and innovation and so that students and staff of Central don’t feel isolated or separate. Currently and for many years Central has essentially had to share Centennials facilities for sporting events including football, track, swimming. This is also a school that Central competes with and that just doesn’t fair over well. Comparing the two schools Centennial is air conditioned for warm days, at Central only certain parts of the school is that privileged. At Centennial there is a State of the Art Auditorium, and while Central has had upgrades to its Auditorium, it’s not nearly as spacious. While Centennial could use some upgrades, Central is old and battered, to continue doing upgrades would be drastically costly in the long-run. It’s simply time for something new and Interstate Drive is the way to go!

AreaMan wrote on March 13, 2015 at 10:03 am
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I think that sharing athletic facilities is a great strategy to minimize cost, and it is a smarter use of space.

"MTD already has buses..." -- MTD has estimated it would cost around an additional half-million per year to provide service to this location. Over a 30 year bond period, that is $15 million in public transportation costs alone, not including the amount offset to students and parents who elect to drive personal vehicles.

Fortis99 wrote on March 13, 2015 at 11:03 am

I am not sure why Champaign even needs two highschools. It seems like a duplication of huge amounts of resources. A combined highschool would make the most sense, especially if placed at the current Centennial site. An elimination of the Central vs. Centennial rivalry would upset the sports fans, but I believe having only one highschool would foster a higher quality of education and help bring the community together, working toward improving kids' futures. It's about time Unit 4 learned to work with what it already has, and make more practical, economically sensible choices.

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

Studies have shown that excessively large high schools do not perform as well. Once you pass a certain threshold there is a marked rise in administration overhead. Moreover, I cannot foresee 3,200 student high school in a community of this size as being sensible. Also it would violate the consent decree.

sil wrote on March 13, 2015 at 11:03 am

I respectfully disagree with the comment that the Interstate area is the direction of development for our community. The North Prospect corrider is a nightmare. We have subdivisions in the south and west areas of Champaign that have been under development for 8+ years with plenty of vacant lots. Though slow progress is being made, we're still a recovering real estate market. If I were choosing to build a new home and there was a subdivision under construction, north of Market Place is not a site I'd choose. If you drive north on Mattis toward St Thomas More HS, you will see an undeveloped site that was expected to be developed around the time St Thomas was built. It remains to be seen whether Interstate is the best locale for a new HS. There are also many families who choose to live in surrounding communities whose schools have excellent ratings. There is no doubt our school buildings need improvement or rebuilding, of that there is no question. However, projected numbers are only estimates, and can be used to create a sense of false urgency. This is a huge committment that will have future ramifications on students, families and this community.  Lets make sure all options are given the same consideration and get this right the first time! VOTE NO on April 7.

pattsi wrote on March 19, 2015 at 7:03 am

Impressive--Common Ground has now announced the site of the Champaign store--Washington and Walnut. Well thought out. Will stimululte this area. Folks running for the Unit 4 might take note as to a result of listening to the citizens that appears to have been turned into a well thought out site, space, and what it will do for ED in Champaign. Maybe Unit 4 will emulate a similar process and turn toward infill that stimulates ED.