PACA Calls On Unit Four To Work With Them On Saving Burnham Mansion

Detail of the Burnham Mansion in Champaign.

Detail of the Burnham Mansion, one of the buildings acquired by the Champaign Unit Four school district for the expansion of Champaign Central High School. The Champaign City Council will consider a proposal to grant it landmark status.

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night on landmark status for three homes slated to be torn down for the expansion of Central High School. The school district says a ‘yes’ vote would doom their expansion plans. But a preservationist group says that doesn’t have to be the case. 

PACA, the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County, says the Unit Four district should save at least one of the three properties: 1880’s Burnham Mansion, named for the Burnham banking family, and designed by the noted Chicago architectural firm Burnham and Root (no relation).

Unit Four wants the property on Church Street for parking, and has argued that losing it would threaten the future of the high school renovation/expansion project.But PACA board member Tod Satterthwaite says the Burnham Mansion could be saved without threatening the high school project. 

"Unit Four attempts to give us the false choice of having either the Burnham Mansion or a newly renovated Central High School," said Satterthwaite, a former Urbana mayor. "The fact is, we can have both. There are other nearby locations for parking, other non-historic buildings that could be acquired by Unit Four.”

Unit Four officials have offered to help move the Burnham Mansion to another site, using money earmarked for its demolition. But Satterthwaite says moving a house that big would be difficult, and might even require the temporary removal of utility poles and streetlights in order to get the structure over to another location.

“It’s much easier to move a parking lot than it is to move an historic structure," said Sattherthwaite. "And so, we’d like to see the structure in place, and move the parking, which is relatively easy."

Sattherwaite says there are other properties near the high school, including a vacant lot, that could be used instead. It’s calling on Unit Four to work with them to find a solution good for both sides.

The Champaign City Council will consider the landmark proposals at its meeting, Tuesday at 7 PM at the Champaign City Building. Besides the Burnham Mansion, the council will also consider landmark status for two other buildings on Church Street: the Col. Bailey home and the former McKinley Memorial YMCA, which was also once a private residence.

Story source: WILL