Six months later, family still working on deal to sell house to Unit 4

Six months later, family still working on deal to sell house to Unit 4

Let your opinion be heard. Submit a Letter to the Editor by clicking here

CHAMPAIGN — Nearly six months after taking their story public, the residents of a West Church Street home that will soon be in a school construction zone still haven't reached a deal with Unit 4, like their neighbors did.

And Monday night, Tim and Debra Bowers' attorney pleaded their case to the school board itself, suggesting that it might be time for both sides to leave the lawyers out of the room and let family and board members meet privately.

The couple and their children sat quietly while their Champaign attorney, Paul Cole, lamented the "not very successful" communication between the family and the board, and decried the lack of results from his own negotiations with Pat Fitzgerald, Unit 4's real-estate attorney.

The Bowerses "need and deserve an opportunity to express their concerns directly to the board," Cole said. "I have suggested this in the past and not received an encouraging response. It may be that having too many attorneys in the room simply stifles communication and creates an adversarial atmosphere."

Since the passage of the 2016 referendum that included an $87.1 million expansion of Central High School, the Bowerses have been trying to determine where they stand with Unit 4, they said in an earlier interview. Since their home wasn't in the district's "critical path" of expansion, they planned on remaining there, even as blueprints emerged showing construction would happen around them heading into the fall 2022 opening of the new high school.

But as the district bought their neighbors' homes — paying $240,000 for the property at 615 W. Church St. and in the $210,000 range for 619 W. Church — the family approached the district to discuss their options.

There was no mention Monday night about dollar figures for the Bowers home, which the family paid $230,000 for but upgraded since — Deb putting nearly all of her inheritance from her father into improvements and Tim adding built-in bookcases in the den.

In a four-page summary Cole gave to board members Monday, the Bowerses say they have made at least $76,350 in improvements to the house, from $150 for fitness room wallpaper in 2017 to $24,000 in both supplies and labor to replace the side porch in 2016.

They proposed selling to the district in February for about $300,000, according to Cole, who suggested the stalemate in negotiations was his fault.

Although he had been talking to Fitzgerald for "a long period of time," he said he only recently became aware that Fitzgerald wasn't authorized to act on the board's behalf, only make recommendations.

Cole asked Monday night who on the board he should address a response to, since an offer had recently been made to the Bowerses on the district's behalf.

(Cole declined to state the amount of the offer. State policy allows school boards the right to keep real-estate transactions and the discussion surrounding them private until finalized.)

But board President Chris Kloeppel said in a statement after Monday night's meeting that this case will continue to be handled by the attorneys for both sides.

"We'll address any questions through Pat," Kloeppel said. "We'll continue to work through this negotiation."

In other referendum news Monday, the board approved a construction contract with O'Shea Builders for up to $344,821 for the demolition of properties near Central.

Those include the Burnham Mansion and properties at 201 and 203 N. Lynn St., 607 W. Church St. and 606 Park Ave.

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