A challenge: where would I put a new high school?

Mr. Craig Walker recently observed that I have not offered any alternative sites, while expressing in my “diatribe” a discontent for all current sites. Point taken. So here we go.

Disclaimer: I am not an architect, a planner, an educator, or any other  relevant profession nor do I claim to have a higher education in any relevant field of study that pertains to where to place a high school. What I express here is simply an answer to an implicit question, one that I felt was a valid question and worthy of a reasonable response.

First, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Why do we need a new high school? While some might posit that the current building that houses Central is “crumbling down”, I personally have not found that to be true at all; granted, it is an older facility and lacks common amenities like central AC and the structural power grid for upgrades. Based on the various demographic studies we have, most notably from DeJong-Richter, there is a very likely chance that our student population is going to continue to increase, and we are told that the high schools are already at (or maybe even over) capacity. We are also told that it is a huge pain in the ass to accommodate the needs of the athletic teams, since Central has no grounds attached to the site for practice or games. In the end, I agree, we need some way to manage a higher number of high school students and the various programs to support their educational experience.

But why are we locked into a two high school scenario? That confuses me the most. I am going to offer several alternative sites, but they all assume a three high school scenario (with variations on a theme), which has not been talked about much at all even though the DeJong-Richter discussions, surveys, dialogs and conversations suggest that this might be a good thing. I assume that in a three high school scenario, we could keep Central as a “tech/career” school, and that by having three high schools, we reduce the required capacity at each school individually. I am also going to focus on a location that is north of University, south of I-74, west of First and east of Mattis. The reason I wish to bound my suggestion in this manner is because the DeJong-Richter demographic information tells me that the highest populations of students is in and around Garden Hills; furthermore, the highest population of future high school students (using today’s data) is currently located in the same area. I further assume that community/family engagement is a huge priority, and that in order to realize this priority, we MUST consider transportation costs, even to the point of weighting them higher than the development cost of a potential site. My oversimplified version of the Consent Decree is that African-American families were getting jilted because they were overly bussed due to having underperforming and/or neglected local schools, not to mention a significant number of related equity issues including disproportionate representation in Gifted programs and discipline. I still see how the scars of that battle impacts the thinking of community members today, and I wish to make it a priority by reducing busing (as I have made it a priority in Schools of Choice as well). I would also point out that it is not only African-American families that are impacted by this; I would focus on those families that do not have the freedom to choose alternatives to public schools.

One more thought: I am torn about the need for athletic fields in general. But I’ll save that for another post.

With that said, here are some sites – not one, but three (happy Cyber Monday):

  1. The old AC Humko site, stretching to the land east of it as well. I realize this is no longer a feasible candidate, since Kraft has set it eyes on it. But consider this; the City wants to turn this area into a TIF district because it is “blighted” (a word I have many isses with). Yet this site is very close to a dense demographic population, and relatively easy to access. A high school at this location could beautify and enhance the surrounding area, and still have plenty of room for athletic fields.
  2. I still very much like Imani Bazzell’s Great Campus idea (as stated several times in other posts). Combined with Pattsi’s idea of utilizing all four corners of the Neil/Bradley intersection, this could be a viable high school location. The City has already planned to do drastic things in the Bristol Park area – I have to believe that if athletic fields are indeed a priority, we could work something out, maybe with Human Kinetics, maybe with the areas surrounding the Canadian National line. I am very much against displacing huge numbers of low-income families – is there a way to collaboratively make this idea work?
  3. Multi-campus locations: this is an extreme hybridization, and perhaps too radical for consideration, but if all we have are small sites within the stated boundaries, what about having tracks at various locations? Is it possible to have, say, all four grade levels in different buildings, or Fresh/Soph at one and Jr/Sr at another? I know, there are lots of bad things to go along with this – I was asked for alternatives, so I am giving alternatives. For instance, the Judah site (again, which is now not available but at one point there was a possibility), the Spalding Site (staying north of the railroad), and what used to be a gated housing development north of Bradley and west of McKinley, and the old Alexander Lumber Company (another site that is now spoken for, I believe).

A word about the reasons why the other two “internal” choices (Clear Lake Tract and Country Fair) were already dismissed as possible candidates. I was disappointed that the cited reasons included things like how a certain study might reduce acreage, or how dealing with local obstacles might increase development costs, or that there are IDOT costs. I mean, which school site is not going to have IDOT costs? Show me the hard and fast numbers of how much it WILL cost, and then we can weigh whether or not the costs are worth it. Right now, we do not have those numbers, yet we already went from 15 to 6 sites, and tonight we go down to 3.

To repeat, my suggested alternative sites make a few assumptions, namely:

  • a three-high-school scenario, not two
  • transportation and accessibility is a huge priority
  • bounded by Mattis, I-74, First and University



One Response to “A challenge: where would I put a new high school?”

  1. norepinephrine | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] way I see it (as mentioned previously), we are currently suffereing from a lack of sound, viable planning that should have occurred over […]

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