News Local/State

Unit 4 Committee Wants Central HS Renovated

Entrance to Champaign Central High School.

The entrance to Champaign Central High School, which Landmarks Illinois says is in danger of being destroyed, under expansion plans being considered by the Unit Four school district. Landmarks Illinois

A panel looking at facilities needs for Champaign Unit 4 schools wants to renovate Central High School rather than tearing it down.  In its last meeting, the 16-member Tier 2 Facilities committee recommended Central remain where it is, and expand on site rather than rebuild at Park and Church Streets – with the goal being part of a fall referendum.  

Committee members cited the efforts in 2015 of the 'Keep Central Central' group that helped defeat the second of two referendums.

A member of that group, Pru Runkle, addressed the committee, citing the restoration of other buildings in the community, including the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall. 

"Try to think about the historical significance of Central High School, and preserve our architectual heritage," she said. 

Unit 4 Board member Amy Armstrong says given Central’s age and architecture, the thought of tearing it down 'made my stomach hurt.'

"So if we renovate it, and bring it back to its original beauty, expand on that, and then care for it, it's going to be magnificent in my humble opinion," she said. 

Committee member Craig Rost, Executive Director of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, says if the 81-year old building on University Avenue were to be torn down and rebuilt to the north, it impacts the entire neighborhood.

Plans to renovate and expand Central could be part of a fall referendum, which would likely also mean expansion at Centennial High School, and possible work at four other buildings, including tearing down and rebuilding Dr. Howard Elementary.  Other work could involve Edison Middle School, South Side Elementary, and the International Prep Academy.

Construction managers and architects laid out different cost scenarios at Thursday’s meeting but the committee didn’t endorse one. 

The Unit 4 Tier 2 Facilities Committe holds its last meeting Thursday at Unit 4's Mellon Administrative Center.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert

Unit 4 School Board President Chris Kloeppel says the district can’t request more than $257 million in bonds, not enough to finish every project (all that work would require $262.2 million) and would likely ask less of voters anyway.

“The committee was choosing recommendations that were in that $200 million range," he said. "I think that’s a possibility. But I think really, you have to tie that to the plan. If you’re putting out a plan and explaining why we need to do these things and where that gets us, and what that gets us, I think that’s how you potentially achieve a referendum at that cost.”

The Tier 2 panel will make its recommendations to the Unit 4 Board at its meeting Monday night.

But Kloeppel says the conversation on school building projects, and the amount of any referendum will continue over the next several weeks.  Two town hall meetings are scheduled (scheduled for June 23 at 6 p.m. at Central High School, and July 14 at 6 p.m. at Centennial High School) and Unit 4 also plans to send out a community survey.

The district has to submit its plans for a fall referendum by mid-August.