Plan commission opposes landmark status for 3 properties in Central's way

Plan commission opposes landmark status for 3 properties in Central's way

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign Plan Commission has given a thumbs-down to granting local historic-landmark status to three buildings in the way of the planned expansion of the Champaign Central High School campus.

Following more than three hours of often-emotional testimony, the commission voted Wednesday to forward preservation nominations for the Albert C. and Julia F. Burnham House at 603 W. Church St., the Phillippe Mansion/McKinley Memorial YMCA at 500 W. Church St. and the Capt. Edward Bailey House at 606 W. Church St. to the full city council with the recommendation that all three nominations be denied.

The commission voted 8-1 on the Burnham building (with Commissioner Laurie Reynolds siding with preservationists) and 9-0 on the other two properties.

While the proposals will be considered by the Champaign City Council at its Dec. 5 meeting, it is rare for the council to go against the recommendations of the plan commission.

The three properties are among several the district purhcased to make way for the expansion of Central High School as part of a $183 million referendum voters approved a year ago. The map below shows those purchases, with the three properties in question highlighted in orange:

Following the meeting, school board president Chris Kloeppel said he was pleased with Wednesday's decision.

"I am pleased we had the opportunity to present the culmination of our work and how we got there," Kloeppel said. "I'm certainly pleased with the outcome, but also appreciative of the work of everybody involved."

Preservation and Conservation Association board member Susan Appel, who made the formal application for the Burnham and Bailey buildings, said all three buildings are historically significant.

"This is a collection of impressive buildings. We should be proud to have them in our midst, rather than let us be convinced they are of too little worth to survive," Appel said.

She stressed that the school district plans to replace the Burnham mansion with a parking lot.

"We as members of this community still have time to consider whether we want to lose this gem for the sake of new parking spaces," she said.

"Anyone who thinks that adding more student parking at Central is going to solve the congestion problem is like whistling in the wind," Reynolds said. "What you are going to do is increase student drivers to Central."

"What happened if that space was going to be no parking and instead be a science lab?" countered commissioner Bret Kroncke. "Would you tear it down for a science lab?"

Proposals call for converting the other two properties into athletic fields.

Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, who made a 34-minute presentation on behalf of the Champaign school district, said Unit 4 is passionate about its future.

"Today's issue in simplest terms is about which is the greater good for our community," he said. "Are we focused on preserving the past or building for the future?"

Fitzgerald said the Tier Two Facilities Committee had listened to the concerns of Appel and other PACA members during its work planning for the 2016 referendum.

He said the district went so far as to consult with city staff over the historical status of the properties under question in the spring of 2016.

"Unit 4 even filed applications for landmark status of the properties with the city in April 2016 to resolve the issue of whether any of the properties we were contemplating acquiring rose to the level of historical status," he said. "The city staff rejected the applications as 'technically insufficient.'"

Fitzgerald stressed that 65 percent of district voters approved the referendum to fund work at Central and other school buildings.

"Unit 4 has afforded to PACA the ability to move any of the structures that are in discussion today," he said. "We've also offered PACA the opportunity to salvage any of the historically significant portions of any of the buildings. To date, PACA has yet to respond to these offers."

If Unit 4 were to try to upgrade the three buildings for public accommodation, Fitzgerald said an architect has estimated it would cost $2.8 million to upgrade Burnham, $1.6 million to acquire more parking, $8.3 million to upgrade the YMCA and $2 million to upgrade the Bailey building.

"If Unit 4 is forced to use these properties for education, where does Unit 4 secure the funds?" he asked.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Education, Housing

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
EdRyan wrote on November 16, 2017 at 8:11 am

Seems like it would make more sense for the district to acquire the entire block north of Central, and use that for all the HS expansion.  The old YMCA and the church could be redeveloped as single family houses in character with the neighborhood.

rsp wrote on November 16, 2017 at 9:11 am

There are other homes there that could be historic, including north of Central. That would just bring up a different fight. Unit 4 tried to put together a group of properties that made sense financially and structually.

pattsi wrote on November 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Somewhat tongue in cheek and somewhat serious, there could be a paradigm shift in that any addition could be vertical and not just horizontal. There are urban HS that do not have the land luxury that we perceive here and figure out how to fit vertically.  :-)  Then use the land space around Centenniel to build an integrated athletic complex. And share more with the park district. Is the CFD gong to keep that station? Good question--such land might become available.

A reminder that the HS is being built fo 5 decades--does this mean education will delived as it is today or more electronically so there will be less need for physical spaces for all of the students at the same time.

rsp wrote on November 16, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Building on that, they need to plan schools with the ability to add-on designed into them. It could make going up a few floors easier. I would love for the community to have a "sports" complex for the students to all to use. It could be used for all kinds of events and conferences.

aantulov wrote on November 17, 2017 at 7:11 am

Sports complex are the biggest scam. (See John Oliver's show on I tube regarding. ) This no exception. We need job training for the option of being employed out of highschool. Sports need not be spectator events, or events where your kid spends the semester on the bench. Check out circus educators, dance programs or yoga, or chef training, (those pots are heavy) nllllllll these are royalty-free to developers. Every school does not have to be the same. What we are doing by focusing "edcucation" in this manner has left us non competitive and overweight as a nation.

Objective Reporter wrote on November 21, 2017 at 9:11 am

We don't have to have one without the other.  Why can't we have great learning opportunities for students who choose to go directly into the work force AND quality athletic facilities?