Park district's proposal for Centennial drainage has Unit 4 thinking land swap

Park district's proposal for Centennial drainage has Unit 4 thinking land swap

CHAMPAIGN — Talks between the Champaign Park District and Unit 4 officials may turn to land-swapping after a $60,000 price tag for 1 acre of land was floated at Monday night's school board meeting.

Previously, Unit 4 officials had hoped to come to an easement agreement that would allow them to use park-district-owned land for necessary stormwater detention north of Centennial High School. But Elizabeth Stegmaier, Unit 4's director of capital projects and planning, told board members Monday night that the park district didn't see such an agreement as "being to their benefit" and had instead proposed selling the acre to the district for $60,000. That number is $32,000 more than the district's initial $28,000 offer to the park district on Aug. 1.

Part of the reason for that uptick in price, Unit 4 real-estate lawyer Pat Fitzgerald told board members, was that park district officials knew there were deadlines to meet, which board President Chris Kloeppel emphasized wasn't a result of poor planning or a sudden realization on the district's part that additional stormwater detention would be necessary.

"That has been at the forefront of these conversations the whole time," he said. "The next time it rains, (Tommy Stewart Field) isn't going to float up. (But) with a very wet summer, we decided we might want to provide this insurance."

Fitzgerald told board members that an easement agreement had concerned park district officials, who worried about liability concerns. Selling the land, he said, would reduce those concerns. Still, he urged board members to be cautious.

"What you do in this matter does create precedent," he said. "This negotiation is not done in a vacuum. You're particularly active in the real-estate market. Other property owners you're doing business with are watching this with great anticipation."

Additionally, he said, the park district had some requirements of Unit 4 if it does buy the land, such as providing the park district with fill material gathered during excavation and reserving some access to the detention basin for buildings the park district "may or may not construct."

To circumvent spending extra money, board members proposed finding an acre of school-district-owned land to swap with the park district. Fitzgerald said such property had already been identified, and they were ready to sit down with park district officials "as early as tomorrow morning" to propose the swap. Kloeppel called for more discussions that include solutions other than the district buying the acre for $60,000.

"With urgency, continue to explore creative ways to partner with the park district to wrap this up," he said.