Unit 4 school district agrees to buy family's house

Unit 4 school district agrees to buy family's house

CHAMPAIGN — Not long ago, the Champaign school board deemed the house at 617 W. Church St., C, unneeded for its plans.

But on Tuesday evening, the Unit 4 school district agreed to pay $298,000 and become that property's owner, ending a years-long state of "limbo" for Tim and Deb Bowers, the current owners.

Deb Bowers called the sale a relief.

"I feel like I can breathe again," she said, adding that the family may move to Savoy. "We don't want the kids to have to watch the house be torn down."

Through their attorney Paul Cole, the Bowers had been trying to reach an agreement with Unit 4 for more than a year.

They'd purchased the home in 2006 for $230,000 and hoped to remain there, even after voting in favor of a referendum package that included plans to expand Central High School nearby. But as neighboring properties were sold off to the district, they began to reconsider. They wondered about the health of their children during construction and hoped to reach some sort of agreement with the district — either an immediate purchase or an option to purchase — but talks between the parties stalled frequently.

Recently, Cole took to using public comment periods at board meetings as a way of reaching board members directly.

Initially, Unit 4 didn't want to pay nearly $300,000 for the home, given that it wasn't in what had been deemed the critical pathway of Central's expansion. But the Bowers family didn't want to settle for an agreement that didn't factor in the work the family had done to improve the house, including Tim's woodwork inside.

The deal was approved 5-2. School board members Kathy Richards and Gianina Baker voted against the purchase.

"I just want to state I'm voting 'no' because I view it as a want and not a need, and the amount of money is too high to justify this want," Richards said.

In other board news, members heard from a public engagement firm who'd analyzed the district's projected enrollment over the next 10 years. Information from that report could inform later decisions on whether to redistrict, board members said, but public input and more information would be necessary first.

According to the study, the district's estimated overall enrollment in 10 years could be 10,571 — up a few hundred students from the projection of 10,182 students this school year.

The board also approved a hazardous materials abatement contract with Abetco Inc. for $123,797.

Two grant proposals written by assistant superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum and aimed at "support[ing] instruction for the educationally disadvantaged students" — as well as providing professional development for teachers within that programming — also received the board's stamp of approval.