A sign of things to come?

A sign of things to come?

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district recently became the proud owner of a 67-year-old, 1,152-square-foot, single-family home in the Spalding Park neighborhood.

But that doesn't mean it has its sights set on that part of town for a new Central High School, as was discussed and debated for months last summer.

For now, school board member Kathy Richards says, plans for the home at 714 W. Harvard St. — bought for $100,000 — remain "loose."

"There's still some questions about whether we'll be able to use the house for educational purpose and I'm not sure how interested the district is in being a landlord, but it was discussed," Richards said. "Long term, it's a piece of property right next to Franklin (Middle School), so it was a good purchase. There's future potential."

On Monday, for the first time since five new members were sworn in, the Unit 4 board will talk about the six-year-old consent decree — and what it allows, and doesn't allow, with regard to location for any new school. That could someday include Central, where Monday's school board meeting will be held.

After two failed attempts at getting voters to sign off on building a new high school along 80 acres of undeveloped farmland in northernmost Champaign, this board isn't in a hurry to put a third proposal before taxpayers, President Chris Kloeppel has said. But when it does, the Spalding/Franklin area is likely to be discussed, given its central location and available acreage.

A few years ago, the district sent our notices to residents in the Harvard Street neighborhood, asking owners to contact Unit 4 if they were ever interested in selling. The owner of the home Unit 4 wound up purchasing reached out to the district directly to see if it was interested, Richards said.

During the where-to-put-Central discussions last year, Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand bemoaned the district's history of not "land banking," the process of investing in property near existing facilities for future use. It's been a popular practice in Urbana, where the school district has purchased 15 of 21 homes one block north of the high school as part of a program that began in the 1990s.

Friday, Kloeppel said the Harvard Street home's proximity to Franklin made it valuable and the board went through with the purchase because "at the end of the day, we were comfortable enough with it just being a parking lot expansion, at the least."

Harvard Street isn't the only part of town where the school board is scouting property for sale.

Despite comments to the contrary last week from owner Leon Jeske, the former McKinley YMCA building — conveniently located two blocks from Central — remains a possibility down the road for the district, Kloeppel said.

The school board's real estate representative — Champaign attorney Patrick Fitzgerald — is still in "ongoing discussions" about the mostly vacant building, Kloeppel said.

"We have nothing definitive to discuss. We are still investigating the option," Kloeppel said.

Hours after Fitzgerald met with Jeske on Monday for what Kloeppel described as an "informational" meeting, Jeske told WDWS 1400-AM the district wasn't interested in buying the building because the board didn't want to commit to any purchases for at least another 18 to 24 months.

Earlier this year, the Champaign Park District investigated and eventually passed on purchasing the YMCA because of the $2 million price tag, plus the $8 million to $9 million it estimates it would have cost to remodel the facility. In an email to The News-Gazette, Jeske said he doesn't envision Unit 4 having that high a renovation price tag because the park district was looking into adding a large pool and "removing some existing structures."

"It has already been remodeled," Jeske said, rattling off the fixes that would need to be made — replacing the heater, filter and chlorine feeder for the large pool; a new roof over that pool; new lighting fixtures; and a small section of the carpet in the men's fitness center, among other things.

"I doubt you could spend more than $200,000 to get everything working properly and usable for Unit 4 schools," Jeske said.

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787 wrote on September 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

It is a shame that the leadership of Unit 4 has been so short-sighted, that they couldn't have been doing this for decades now.    Instead, they run out and buy 80 acres that is half-way to Thomasboro, at the north end of what is the busiest corridor in town... and try to convince the voters (after the fact, twice) that it is the best available option.     No.  It wasn't.

Also, if Unit 4 wants to pass a building referendum... how about they cut all of the extravagant rubbish out of these buildings?  Unit 4 doesn't need schools that look like the lobby of a Hilton hotel on the inside.  The recently completed Carrie Busey school is a prime example of this.  Special brickwork, staggered windows, exterior walls that can't be in a straight line, a sloped roof.... guess what?   That all costs MONEY.  

How about Unit 4 using an architect who doesn't think that money grows on trees? That would be a huge improvement right there.

These buildings don't teach the kids, and spending millions and millions of dollars extra on useless extras for them is nothing but a waste of money.  Somehow, the kids who attend University High get a top notch education, in a building that was buit in the same era as Central.

Two failed referendums, and people voted off of the school board.  Is anyone on the Unit 4 school board paying attention yet?  Anyone?

mikeyy wrote on September 27, 2015 at 9:09 pm

why pay this lady 225,000  a year for nothing????  tax payes ,,where are you???

EdRyan wrote on September 27, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Little Paris, Illinois recently opened their shiny brand new high school complex northwest of town where there was once a corn/soybean field.  Somehow Champaign should be able to pull off such a feat or otherwise acquire the south side of Church Street and expand the Central campus.

pattsi wrote on September 27, 2015 at 7:09 pm

Bravo, more fabulous earth under concrete because of poor urban planning and lack of creative problem solving. That earth will never be what it was once when covered by concrete.

EdRyan wrote on September 28, 2015 at 5:09 am

Oy vey!

cjwinla wrote on October 02, 2015 at 8:10 am

The new Board for the most part was groomed and financed by key developers/business owners and their associates. First piece of business was hiring The Law Firm of major developers and business owners in town and they are basically running things. If the people really knew what is going on behind closed doors it would knock your socks off. Wait,watch and you will see....

Nice Davis wrote on October 03, 2015 at 7:10 am

What's happening behind closd doors? Is it fraud like you were convicted of?

Mr Dreamy wrote on October 03, 2015 at 8:10 am

Nice Davis, Craig Walker wants you to be specific. He wasn't convicted of regular fraud, ripping off some poor sucker. No, he was convicted in Federal Court of VOTER fraud, defrauding the people, defrauding our system of government, defrauding democracy. Don't cast him as a common thief, he is much, much more than that. Or really, much much lower than a common thief.