News Local/State

Unit 4 Proposes $144 Million Bond Issue

an online map of north Champaign that includes the proposed site of a new Central High School

A map showing the proposed location of a new Central High School in a revised ballot measure that may go before voters in April. credit: Unit 4 Schools

Unit 4 schools plans to put a $144 million bond issue on the ballot in April.  The money would go to demolish and rebuild Dr. Howard Elementary, as well as a new Central High School.

It would also pay for additions at Centennial High and repairs and other work at the current Central site.

The total is $5 million less than the proposal that voters rejected last Fall. That plan did not include plans to replace Dr. Howard. 

The plan sticks with the same proposed location for a new Central High, along Interstate Drive, on the far north side of Champaign.  

Supporters of that location say they've looked at other options and ruled them out due to size or other constraints.

School Board member John Bambenek backs the choice and said another major factor is cost.

“I think the land there is already appreciated in value, I think one of the things to point out is that when we did acquire that land, it was done via reverse bid, over a couple of locations in that general ballpark, and that was the best bid price that we had," he had.  "The market set the value for the land we acquired.”

Kathy Richards, a candidate for the school board, wants the new Central to stay closer to the center of the city. She said the plan should be more creative about finding enough land to do that. 

“If you’re going to rebuild Central, maybe put the heart of it in town, and maybe put the things that take up space, which are the athletic fields, maybe put them out at the interstate site," he said.  "When I say I would like to see some creativity, I mean, creativity not just in seeing where you can shoehorn a full high school in, but maybe see if you can fit different bits of that in.”

Richards said plans for the new high school don’t take into account traffic congestion, and the lack of infrastructure for biking or walking.

Richards is the parent of a Dr. Howard student, and spoke with Illinois Public Media before the latest proposal was made public.  But she said she's happy to hear about any plans to upgrade facilities at Unit 4's oldest school.

In a statement on the Unit 4 website, Superintendent Judy Wiegand says the new ballot question saves money by removing costs of furniture and fixtures from the bond issue, and putting them in Unit 4's operational budget.  

Unit 4 will also postpone plans for new turf on the proposed athletic fields at the Interstate Drive site. 

Wiegand told the News-Gazette on Friday that it is possible that Dodds Park could be used for a new Central, if land there becomes available.  

The Unit 4 school board meets votes on the new referendum proposal in its meeting Monday, starting at 6 p.m at the Mellon Building.