Unit 4 board turns down group's offer to buy Burnham mansion

Unit 4 board turns down group's offer to buy Burnham mansion

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school district has turned down a group's offer to buy the controversial Burnham mansion.

The district didn't make a counter offer, according to Friends of Burnham Mansion, which has mobilized to buy the property set for demolition to make way for a parking lot for Central High School.

"The board of directors of the Friends of Burnham Mansion are very disappointed that the school district did not accept or even counter their offer, and that the notice provided no details as to why the offer was rejected," said Carolyn Baxley, the group's president.

Baxley said the group plans to meet soon to discuss what happened, and its members also hope to meet with a school district representative to see what it will take to secure the house.

"If it's a matter of more money, we will try to come up with a better offer, but we need them to come to the table to discuss it," she said.

Friends of Burnham Mansion offered $389,618 for the 134-year-old house at 603 W. Church St. — the most recent fair market value determined by assessors.

Todd Salen, the Sperry Van Ness/Ramshaw Realtor who brought the group's offer to the district, said he told members they might have to raise their price to as much as a $1.4 million to change minds on the school board.

"The number $1.4 million was thrown around. I call it ante money in a high-stakes poker game," he said in a note to the group. "It would take at least that much to get a seat at their table to begin having a conversation. Why that amount? It's a guess, but it's what the (district) spent for the 'properties.' And it's about what they project securing the properties to the east will cost."

An interactive map of all the properties the district bought is below:

Salen said he believes both sides have negotiated in good faith.

"We have been talking for about a month," he said. "The school board gave us a list of things that needed to happen for the house to continue to be there. The biggest thing is how does the house co-exist with the footprint of Champaign Central High School?"

Salen said there was a lot more to consider than where else to place a parking lot in connection with the $87.1 million expansion project for the high school. The board also has to consider where else the high school can expand in the future if the Burnham house remains, which would limit its options to the north.

"I think you've got an elected body that feels strongly that the voters have given them direction and they needed to receive an offer significant enough to change that directive," Salen said.

Champaign school district officials weren't reached for comment Thursday.

The recent launch of the Friends group represents the most recent effort to save the house from demolition.

The Champaign County Preservation and Conservation Association appealed to the city to designate the property as a historic landmark, which was rejected, and a Facebook group has secured more than 11,600 signatures on an online petition calling for the house to be preserved.

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mstook423 wrote on January 25, 2018 at 12:01 pm

I don't think the Friends of Burnham Mansion understand.  The property is not for sale and the land has been earmarked for a specific use.  Why would the school board even discuss it with the group?  It is not for sale?  It is not about the money offered it is about the needed use of the property.

IlliniwekMerica wrote on January 25, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Duh, the value to the school district isn't the assessed tax value of the house, it's the whole school construction and parking plan. I'm sure if Friends of Burnham raised enough money and bought a different lot to move the house to the school would sell them the house, but I really doubt there's a realistic amount of money the school would accept just to sell the house and land and have to redo their entire expansion plans. 

I don't blame the school for not negotiating, they don't really have a reason too. 

rsp wrote on January 25, 2018 at 6:01 pm

I just don't understand why they didn't accept a fraction of what they paid for the property and rework their whole plan. It just boggles my mind.

d43 wrote on January 25, 2018 at 7:01 pm

The only win-win here is to dismantle the house and rebuild it somewhere else.  Time is short to get r done with an actual solution that could work for everybody.  It's not about the house for Unit 4, it's the land.

CommunityVolunteer wrote on January 26, 2018 at 7:01 am

Maybe FOBM can buy some property that is unimproved, say 40 acres on the outskirts of town, where a High School campus that equals or exceeds what has been done in similar communities like Normal can be built. Then trade that land for the Burnham Mansion. A real facility for the future. Oh right, I forgot.

prp wrote on January 26, 2018 at 8:01 am

This community shot down that plan in a referrendum vote. Two times.  The second time soundly.

You man not agree, but Champaign VOTERS as a group and not their representatives on the Unit 4 board not only agreed with the planned expansion of the campus at Central, but also voted to raise their taxes to fund that effort. The Unit 4 board is doing what the majorority asked it to do.  The supporters of the Burnham Mansion have to accept that reality.

Objective Reporter wrote on January 26, 2018 at 9:01 am

No mention of an offer by the Burnham lovers to offer to pay to move the house to a new location.  I bet the district would be happy to sell the house with that condition attached.

d43 wrote on January 27, 2018 at 9:01 am

The house could be disassembled and rebuilt on another site.  There are companies that specialize in this type of move.  The house could also be moved in sections.  Both would cost a small pile of money but there is already almost $400k that a group is willing to spend to save it.  Unit 4 could sell the building for a dollar and the group's money could be used towards a viable solution.