CHAMPAIGN — Much of the tan brick wall that led into Champaign Central’s Seely Hall remains unchanged after years of planning and work on a new addition. The major difference now is that the wall is inside the school rather than on the outside.
A brand-new entrance leads into the school, perpendicular to the old one. To the left is the old building, much of it unchanged, save for new light fixtures and much-needed air conditioning.
On the right, one of the crown jewels of Unit 4’s $264.7 million, six-school, two-field overhaul is almost complete: the three-court gymnasium, complete with around 1,700 seats, an archery net spanning an entire wall up to the ceiling, and a flood of natural light.
“The renovations don’t have as much of a ‘wow factor,’ so when you open up a brand-new gym like this that they’ve never had at Central, it really catches your eye,” said Mark Roessler, capital projects manager for the renovations and Central and Centennial. “It sounds like they’re going to use it plenty.”
When students eventually return to school, they’ll find themselves in buildings that, in some portions, look completely different, and some that are completely new.
One nearly finished new addition at Central includes the brand-new gym, locker rooms, weight rooms and multipurpose rooms. The library has been redone, and so have many classrooms.
Parallel to the new addition, the old auditorium, the band room, a small gym, the industrial tech shop and the kitchen were torn down. Piles of debris and construction vehicles now sit where a new academic addition will rise up, including a new auditorium where music rooms, classrooms and a cafeteria will sit, ready to be used for the 2022-23 school year.
The challenge with wiping out an entire section of the school is that now there’s an exposed interior wall, which has been temporarily insulated.
In both buildings, having students gone for the semester has given the construction crews a little bit of room to work, but not as much as outsiders might think.
“It gives us a little bit more leeway,” Roessler said, “but not a lot, because we have several dozen teachers at each school trying to do the remote learning. We’re trying to not get in their way, so we’re trying to not keep them from doing their job.
“We’re going to work with building principals and some of the staff to see if there are parts of the building we can still work in, but we’re not trying to disturb any of the remote learning.”
At Centennial, a brand-new two-court gymnasium is up and ready on the north side of the building. The Chargers’ new gym is smaller because the school still plans on using its existing gym for competition.
A new addition on the south is flooded with natural light, with large windows looking out onto the athletic fields to the west of the school.
A large industrial tech shop has been built, complete with welding stations, so that Centennial students will no longer have to travel to Central for class.
The cafeteria now has floor-to-ceiling windows, and some of the dingy yellow tiles and walls have been replaced with more modern gray tiles and paint, giving the building a different feel.
The completed additions now sit mostly empty, ready to be filled when in-person learning resumes.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Roessler said. “The summers were so busy, so it’s nice to get near the end of that.
“We’re still finishing up some stuff, but we’re hopefully getting ready for students to come back before too long.”