News Local/State

Champaign’s Unit 4 Schools Begin Tours Before $144 Million Referendum Vote

Students fill a classroom in Champaign's Central High School.

Some worry that Champaign's Central High School will not be able to accommodate the expected increases in enrollment. (Photo: Kaitlin Bane)

Champaign's Unit 4 schools began weekly public tours this week, less than a month before they'll ask voters to support a $144 million referendum to build or overhaul three schools. Central and Centennial High Schools and Doctor Howard Elementary will all be open for tours.

On Tuesday morning, Barbara Ford took the tour of Champaign’s Central High school. She lives nearby and says the building looks similar to where she went to school, which tells her it could use some work.

“I wanted to see what the building was like, I haven’t been in a high school building in a long time and not in Champaign-Urbana so I thought it would be good to see what it was like.”

Assistant principal John Woods led the tour at Central.

The first stop was a computer lab on the third floor. The room didn't have enough outlets and had to be retrofitted. Woods says many rooms, like a nearby math class, don't even have that.

“This classroom has two electrical outlets, four plugs all together,” Woods said.

He says with a computer, printer, scanner and smart board in most rooms, there are not enough plugs for everything, including fans.  This brought him to his second point: The school has no air conditioning.

Julee Lee teaches in a science lab on the third floor. She says her students complain about how hot her classroom is.

“They walk in and they say, ‘Mrs. Lee, your room is the hottest in the whole building.’ So yeah, they don’t care for that.”

Lee says there are times when her classroom reaches 95 degrees during the day.  

Woods says it's one of a growing list of expensive improvements.

“Much like the electrical issues that we’re having, the Ethernet issues that we have, retrofitting the building for forced air conditioning would be extremely costly,” he said.  

And the problems go beyond electrical outlets, Internet and air conditioning.  Woods says there is just not enough space for current students, let alone the expected increases in enrollment.

“In the fall when we have marching band and lets say it rains, they stay in their classroom with 205 kids. Imagine the decibels, imagine the potential damage to hearing, and just the sheer space.”

Woods’ point? They need a bigger school and if that can happen at the proposed Interstate Drive location, he is fine with that.

“Sixteen sports practice off campus," he said, "So when people talk about the interstate site being way out there, it’s two-point-four miles from our building, from right here.”

After the tour, Barbara Ford says that she can see the school needs updating, but she wants to keep it in a central location.

“Hopefully that will contribute to the center city being strong and a positive place to live rather than being bussed from your neighborhood to another neighborhood to go to school.”

Ford made up her mind about her vote before going on the tour, something that could pose a challenge for Unit 4 officials as they look to build support ahead of April’s referendum.