Community members criticize proposal to close Wiley Elementary in Urbana
The Urbana School District 116 held a public meeting that proposed to close Wiley Elementary School due to an asbestos problem.
During the open comment portion of the meeting, on Feb. 7, many protested the potential closure and the district’s lack of plans to reopen the school.
“We want our students to stay at Wiley until the school board has a plan of what Wylie is going to be and how long the construction will take,” said Mabruka Yazidi, a Wiley parent. “Isn't that logical?”
According to the Wiley proposal presentation, renovations for Wiley have been in the district's previous facility committee's plans going as far back as 2009 and 2017. The building was built with asbestos and has been needing roof leak repairs, so many parents are saying the asbestos is not a new issue.
The board’s proposal involves the temporary closure of Wiley for renovations and asbestos treatment. However, it did not specify its plans for after the renovations are complete.
None of the proposed options, out of six, specifically stated that Wiley Elementary would return as before.
"Asbestos is in a lot of buildings these days," said Mike Anderson, a Wiley parent. "There's only a health concern when it becomes airborne. The more pressing issue is that at Wiley, there are roof leaks and other concerns that cause the ceiling tiles to get saturated with water and fall down, and that is where the asbestos can become a health risk."
Asbestos is a construction material that has been shown to strengthen and insulate, making it the optimal choice for manufacturing products. However, if asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it can pose serious health risks.
David Guth, a former Wiley parent and Assistant Director for Facilities at the University of Illinois, said he has experience with dealing with asbestos in old buildings.
"I feel like just from a professional standpoint, we need to take that step back," Guth said during the district meeting. "I can sympathize with the need to address that health concern … but I think that we need to take a step back and fully consider the cost of this process … It has a cost that is great or greater than the asbestos that we are going to remove."
Many protesting this proposal said they know the asbestos at Wiley is not a current danger to anyone, not yet at least. They said they want renovations, but they are fighting to make sure the board does not close the school for renovations without the reassurance that Wiley will reopen.
"We want to make sure that we're not creating disparities," said Ruqayyah Perkins-Williams, a Wiley parent. "We want Wiley to be renovated and repaired. We want those things to happen, but we do not want our Wiley family to be displaced as a result of the renovations."
On Feb. 11, a group of about 15 community members gathered in an Urbana Free Library conference room to have a strategic brainstorming session for Wiley's future.
"We are uniting under the banner of Wiley Strong because we know that we're going to be better together, which is also the catchphrase for the school district," Perkins-Williams said. "We are Wiley strong for all of the children, not just the children of Wylie.”