News Local/State

Unit 4 Centennial ‘Town Hall’ Brings Out Referendum Backers

Displays about the future of Centennial High School in the school's library for Thursday's Unit 4 town hall meeting.

Displays about the future of Centennial High School in the school's library for Thursday's Unit 4 town hall meeting. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

The second of two ‘town hall’ meetings at Champaign’s high schools to gather input on the future of school facilities produced a lighter, but mostly supportive crowd. Champaign’s Unit 4 school district is about five weeks from deciding if it’s ready for a fall referendum to address school facilities, and the language that will go before voters.

Thursday 's town hall was at Centennial High, where Chris Hannauer’s son will be a sophomore. 

He’s not concerned about the cost of a possible referendum, but rather, where those tax dollars are going, saying there’s too much emphasis on athletic facilities.

“I feel like the tail is wagging the dog a bit on that," he said. "I kinda feel like that should be the last thing – if we have some money left over, then great – we’ll spend it on a new fieldhouse or something like that.  But I feel like the core academic and cultural mission of the schools should come first.”

For parents like Ann Quackenbush, whose daughter is a junior at Centennial, the concerns are mostly about space, and appreciates future plans there - including using the courtyard for classes and administrative space.

“I know she had to have a study hall behind the theater in the auditorium," she said.  "We know space is an issue. But we don’t have any major concerns, other than making sure that the students really have the places that they need to do the work, and the arts, and the athletics that they want to do.”

Attendees of Thursday's town hall watch an animated simulation of future plans for Centennial High School.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Space in the hallways, walking between classes, is an issue for Ellen Leyerle - the parent of one current Centennial student - and a future one.

“When classes are changing, it's sardines in a can," she said. "My kid is very petit and short, and she just is swallowed in the sea of flesh. It’s quite something to see. It’s a very overcrowded situation.”

Leyerle also says she’s willing to support about $200-million in bonds for upgrades at up to six different schools, saying Champaign’s tax burden is less than neighboring cities.

Property taxes are a concern for Lisa Bowden, who’s not a parent, but says the potential tax bill might decide if she becomes a homeowner in Champaign.

“So looking at meeting that need of new, modern facilities, and doing it with a price tag that’s affordable," she said.  "Bottom line, when you're a taxpayer, and you're looking at a $100-million, $200-million bond, you want to know how that's going to impact on me, and you always know there's going to be cost overruns."

Meanwhile, architectural historian Susan Appel has concerns over Unit 4’s proposals, not because of cost, but the potential loss of historical structures around Central High School, including the old Burnham House, built in the 1880’s.

“There’s other land adjacent in various close by locales, where some of the parking, for instance, could be re-located without damaging as much of the historic property that is here," she said.

Unit 4 School Board President Chris Kloeppel says around 50 people attended Thursday’s town hall, about half the number who visited the previous one at Central High in late June. 

The district faces an August 21st deadline to finalize language for a November referendum with the Champaign County Clerk's office.