Champaign council member seeks assurance: No 'Friday Night Lights' at McKinley

Champaign council member seeks assurance: No 'Friday Night Lights' at McKinley

CHAMPAIGN — A crucial intergovernmental agreement between the Champaign City Council and Unit 4 may have a sticking point.

The proposal — which focuses on construction and zoning related to the $183.4 million plan to renovate Central High School and build a new Dr. Howard Elementary, among other projects — didn't include language that rules out varsity football at McKinley Field, as the council had previously discussed.

To council member Greg Stock, whose district borders the southern half of McKinley Field, that's a problem.

"(We want) at least something that limits it," said Stock, who will discuss the proposal along with the rest of the council at tonight's study session. "We were pretty clear, and it wasn't just me and Alicia (Beck, whose district includes McKinley Field) ... at that council meeting where we initially talked about this, so I was a little surprised that the language wasn't that strong because I thought we were pretty clear that that's the direction and the route that we were going to go."

The current plan is to build a new synthetic turf field at McKinley Field where the sophomore and freshman teams will play games and the varsity team will practice. The Maroons' varsity football team would play its games at Tommy Stewart Field at Centennial, where artificial turf was installed last week and a new home locker room will be built for Central.

While acknowledging major roadblocks to having a full-fledged varsity stadium at McKinley Field, including lights and parking, school board President Chris Kloeppel said the current language allows room for the possibility of playing some games at McKinley.

"I think that's also why some people are hesitant to have end-all language that says that this absolutely can't happen," said Kloeppel, who emphasized that the current plan is for Central varsity football games to remain at Centennial. "Could some of the games be played on Saturday afternoon? There's been some discussion on that. I think this allows for that to be discussed."

Stock is open to discussing the possibility of Central varsity games being played at McKinley Field on Saturdays. Friday night contests, though, are a nonstarter in his mind.

"I think a Saturday day game, people aren't going to sleep or having kids go to sleep typically, versus 9 o'clock on a Friday night," he said. "And there wouldn't be lighting issues, obviously. ... I don't necessarily have a huge problem with that, but I think the 'Friday Night Lights' kind of thing is too much of a burden on the area.

"If it's that big of a deal, they should look at the possibility of building facilities where they own the land north of town (along Interstate Drive). I guess my concern is that this is not anything that was put in front of voters before the referendum. I guess this feels a little bit like, I don't want to say changing the rules, but changing the scope."

Kloeppel said he's interested in hearing an open discussion on the topic, including at tonight's meeting.

"Could a football game take place there?" Kloeppel said. "Absolutely. Freshman and sophomore football is going to be played there, so certainly, it has the capability of playing varsity football there. But parking is an issue, those types of things. I think that those are things that need to be discussed. ...

"The intention right now and the only plan right now is to play varsity football at Centennial, but there has been expressed interest absolutely to play (at McKinley Field). ... But I know that there are some people who aren't interested in the possibility of them playing there, and apparently some city council members as well."