Park Board Rejects Unit 4 Dodds Proposal

Former Champaign mayor Dan McCollum addresses the Champaign Park Board Wednesday night.

Former Champaign mayor Dan McCollum addresses the Champaign Park Board Wednesday night.

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

It only took a simple majority (more than 1 'no' vote) for board commissioners to nix the proposal for a land swap between the park district and Champaign’s Unit 4 schools. 

As it turns out, three commissioners - Jane Solon, Tim McMahon, and Barbara Kuhl, voted it down. Alvin Griggs and Park Board President Joe Petry voted yes.

Rochelle Funderberg of Champaign was at last night’s meeting. She said Unit 4 failed to fully research the proposal – noting gaps in the proposed site next to Parkland College:

“And I thought- what is going to happen if you tonight vote to give them this trade, and Parkland College then turns around and says, we cannot accommodate that?,"  she said.  "Will Unit 4 be back to ask for another 40 acres because Parkland College said no?  I think this sets a very bad precedent.”

Former Champaign mayor Dan McCullom said the Unit 4 proposal was brought before the park district 'in a desperate effort to save a flawed referendum', saying the Dodds Park plan shouldn't have been in the mix weeks before voters cast ballots on the $144 million dollar bond issue.

"They've come to you to bail them out," he said.  "And at this point, I think that's a very unwise decision."

All public comments - 9 in total - were opposed to using Dodds Park for a new Central High.

There was also confusion among some commissioners as to whether they were simply voting to continue the conversation with Unit 4, or specifically for a land swap.

"In my mind, there's not sufficient time to research and resolve all the issues surrounding this potential request in order to make a firm decision prior to the April 7 election date," said Kuhl.

Petry said he was willing to study the land swap proposal further, noting the soccer fields at Dodds are beaten and often flooded, while new ones in a swap with Unit 4 could have allowed for more durability. 

Despite his “yes” vote, Petry said he’s not surprised with the result.

“We love our parks," he said.  "And the public loves our parks.  It’s very difficult, even when it’s for another public use to consider giving that up.”

Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand said she’s disappointed, but not surprised - knowing that people are passionate about their park space.  She also noted a divide on the use of Dodds within the Park District Board.

“Now that we know that Dodds is certainly – completely off the table, because it was at least a public vote this time around – just move forward," she said.  "We know, again, that it’s about the students.  And that was the comment made by a number of different park commissioners as well – that we know we need a new school.  And so let’s move forward with Interstate Drive.”

Next month’s $144-million bond issue is the second time in six months that Unit 4 has targeted the north end location for a new Central High.  Last November’s referendum was defeated, 52 to 47 percent.   

Story source: WILL