Another perspective of siting the high school north of I-74

I had the opportunity to have a really great conversation with Jamar Brown Wednesday morning; I am thankful that he opened the door and allowed me to gain a different perspective. So just to qualify – Jamar speaks for himself. He doesn’t speak for the Board, but for his own person. And he didn’t ask me to say that, I am just getting that formality out of the way up front. 🙂

We hit on a number of different aspects of how the board is going about siting the new location for Central. I’ll bounce around a little bit and re-arrange how our conversation actually went to give you an overall picture.

Again, we have to go back to the bigger picture. Jamar reminded me of the urgency to get something going; due to the lack of chutzpah (not lack of foresight, per se, just lack of acting on any foresight) from previous administrations and previous boards, we are kind of in a bit of a pickle since the student populations are notably growing and the high schools are already at capacity (bursting). So even if we completely remove the need for athletic fields, band fields, parking, etc, we still need more raw seats. At least that is what the current trends and demographic data are telling us. To this, I would agree. The timeline does get a little tricky. If a referendum does not pass in November, what happens? Will there be enough time to go hunting for yet another site and then build a new high school. I get the impression that the current board is not willing to take that risk. Another sense of urgency was the clear message from the Town Hall meeting that we need to stop talking and start doing. This has been echoed elsewhere, and in general, it can be a good idea. I know I am often told that myself. 🙂 Granted, all around there is some question about how the Town Hall was conducted in the first place.

The issue of transparency and accountability is sticky one. I think this is partially because, on the one hand, community members (myself included) have a super high expectation of how open and communicative the board should be. For instance, in regards to the discussion of potential sites, the public does not have any access whatsoever to the great discussions that are going on behind closed doors. We were told that the Board would not publish the list of candidate sites (and then they did list the four sites), and then we are told the Board will not publish the final site due to “negotiations”. On the other hand, Jamar feels that the current board and current administration is a totally different ballgame than what we have had in the past, and that the board is slowly rising to those expectations that we have. I heartily acknowledge his point that the current situation is much different, and I acknowledge that there has been more openness. Jamar reiterated the point about how the board was all set to make a high school siting decision last year and instead, because of feedback from the community, made the conscious decision to put it off and gather more community input. Another case to look at; both Holly Nelson and Minnie Pearson shared stern warnings and thoughts at the December 2nd BOE meeting, and both publicly apologized at the December 9th meeting, acknowledging the hard work of the Board and wanting to collaborate and keep each other accountable. Perhaps one thing that is happening is that folks are hypersensitive to buzzwords like “transparency”, and when we start tossing those terms around and painting with a huge brush, we gloss over the finer details both of the good that is happening and the challenge areas where we need to improve.

We also discussed the desire to “remove the emotion” and deliberate on numbers. While I think this can be a good exercise, we have a couple obstacles before us. One, it is impossible to remove the emotion. Two, we don’t have the numbers. Jamar acknowledges this is a problem – even the board members do not have all the numbers. For instance, the MTD has not been able to disclose how much it will cost to route busses up to any of the new sites. We do not know how traffic patterns will escalate the already crowded north Prospect route – what will a big football game do? Since the sites of I-74 will have extremely limited “Safe Routes” to nearby homes on the other side of the highway, busing will have to increase as well. How much? We don’t really know. I also mentioned to Jamar that the community does not have any access to the metrics and weights the board has been developing for each site. I believe he is going to ask around about that (I hope! *grin*).

We got to talking about serving the needs of the demographics that are on the “north end”. Jamar mentioned that he has personally talked to a number of groups north of University, and the predominant message he has received is that the residents and parents are more concerned about what goes on inside the school rather than where the school is located. For me, this shifts the priorities a bit; if we assume that the location of the school is not the most important variable, then what are we doing to address that which is most important?

As I told Jamar, I do not envy the position of the Board at all. People are clearly fed up with hiring consultants and holding community discussions with no follow-through. If the Board decides to stick with a minimum of 45 acres (which, Jamar is quick to point out, has come down since the 80-acre recommendation from earlier), the number of sites that are “central” are exceptionally limited and hard to work with. If I were on the Board and was told that I had to choose land to buy RIGHT NOW, it would be hard for me to look at the areas south of I-74 right now and find something that would work for 45 acres. I did mention to Jamar that there are other options – there is some support for 3 high schools and multiple campuses (and smaller schools). Jamar observed that perhaps one of the prevailing factors in the Board’s current direction (again, Jamar speaks for Jamar) is that most of the people from the DeJong-Richter “engagements” want what we already have. Some of us cringe at that, for various reasons, but if we go straight off the numbers that we do have (as opposed to numbers we do not have), I have to agree, yes, most of the people who voiced their opinion indicated they wanted two high schools of roughly the same size (number of students) we have now.

We did not talk much about athletics and other programs that need additional land. I’ll leave it at that.

Finally, we did talk a little bit about the lack of a planner on the paid staff. We are in this pickle because we didn’t buy land earlier on when land was available, and there has not been a serious long-term look at how demographics change year by year. I think Jamar understands the importance of having a dedicated person for that role, instead of multitasking and/or sharing a planner with the City (which is no longer happening). As to how to tie new facilities into the goal of addressing the achievement gap? From my perspecitve, even though the District has been working on their “Achievement Framework”, the community has not been brougth up to the same page. Jamar tells me that the Board (and administration) has been inundated with various studies and research papers, and I get the impression that the Board believes a strong extra-curricular program will boost academics. This message came across very strongly from the December 9th board meeting.

In conclusion, I think we have to accept that no matter what the Board does, not everyone will be happy. We may even disagree with what is most important. I very much dislike how, not only with the school district but also at the State and Federal levels, we are getting screwed over because of poor decisions from past leaders. For me, complaining is unsatisfactory – I want to be a part of the solution. I believe this is what Board President Laurie Bonnett was trying to convey at the December 9th BOE meeting; given all our differences, how do we work together?

19 Responses to “Another perspective of siting the high school north of I-74”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post! I have lots of questions. If Unit4 want me to vote for this in November (or any other time), I’m going to need to see some definitive answers to my questions, including:
    *****How will putting the new Central so far away from Centennial affect ability to share classroom offerings. Currently, when a class doesn’t have enough kids to “make” (I’m not sure what the current number is, it was raised in the last few years, I think it is now around 16 to 18 students signed up for the class), one option had been to combine with Centennial to offer the class at one school to both student populations. So recently there have been combined AP history classes and upper-level German classes offered at one school or the other, and the kids from the other school are bused over. It’s an imperfect system because it means the kids being bused miss part of the class they are taking at the other school and usually part of the class they are taking the next period at their own school. However, it does allow expanded offerings at both schools, which is better than not having the class at all. (And there are plenty of classes that don’t “make” anyway, so it is a shame to further curtail offerings.) New Central will be so much further away in travel time that my guess is this program will likely die.
    *****Will the location affect students ability to attend dual credit classes at Parkland for similar travel issues?
    *****High school students drive. What predictions do the police department have (based on statistics of course) for the number of accidents we can anticipate as new drivers add miles to their daily trip and more students have to negotiate the “shopping corridor” and its increased traffic, not to mention that bridges freeze before other road surfaces and it seems likely newer drivers are more likely to have fender benders in dubious weather. Further, some of the sites are best accessed by 57, what does putting young drivers on the interstate daily do to accident rates? I’m sure there are insurance tables for these stats.
    *****Speaking of congestion, how are the roads there likely to be affected? What will the location do to the typical commute time for a students and staff? Will we need extra police officers on the roads during school travel times?
    *****Extracurricular activities on site are a great bonus to any new site for Central, but remembering that the school district does not run “late buses” for students participating, what arrangements will be made for students to get home. Will MTD add more routes? How will this affect MTD taxing rates (and will more routes be needed for the regular school day)? What is the anticipated percentage of walkers at the new site compared to at the current site?
    *****We’re talking about building a new school based on 20th century offerings. What plans are being made for the future as virtual classrooms and technology become more common place. Will we really need 1700 seats in a physical building in 20 years? What about 50?
    *****Will we need additional truant officers as kids have more access to shopping (i.e., the mall) than they do at current Central and it may be difficult to get kids to return after open lunch?
    *****What guarantees will be offered to families in current Central catchment areas that they will remain in Central’s zone and for how long? Build a new high school N of 74 and it seems to make sense to redistrict so the current Central population goes to Centennial. After all, some Centennial families (Ironwood subdivision, for example, have easy access to 57, which as mentioned is one of the more direct routes to these locations), so I can easily see them being redistricted to the new school. Meanwhile Central families in SE Champaign would actually be much closer to Centennial. Central families have waited a long time for a new school (my kids aged out waiting), so I would hate to see families screwed over by this location.
    *****Speaking of Centennial, rumor has it that the building has not aged well. What will be done to address this. How much will it cost? How long is the “fix” expected to last? Will we need to build another new high school to replace Centennial in 20 years? How are we planning for that? Have we learned from our past mistakes at all?
    *****Regarding the Central building (the current one), we’re told that A/C cannot be added now because the electric won’t support it. We’re also told that the old Central is likely to become the new Edison and possibly administrative offices. Since we’ll have to tackle renovations, including a/c before Edison can move in, why aren’t we doing that now? There’s no reason Central kids/staff should continue to suffer while they wait for a new building. And if a/c really isn’t possible then, how can we justify repurposing for Edison? I want to know these costs too.

    And that’s just off the top of my head. For full disclosure, I’m a former Central parent and I’m in favor of a new school. I’m not convinced Champaign Periphery High is the way to go. If you want my vote, Unit 4, you’re going to have to convince me. And “it’s the cheapest land” is not going to do it. We told you to buy land almost 10 years ago, with the first facilities committee.

    I would rather buy the RIGHT parcel of land and take a little longer to build a well-thought out building that meets programming needs well into the future. I think a lot of people in Champaign agree. I want to know how ALL the costs (not just the land) are going to affect me. (If MTD puts up their rates, for example, because of service to the new school, that cost will be passed to tax payers too.) I also want to see numbers on the long-term costs of running a school that far out vs. running a school that is in town. Land purchase/clearing is only one number in a cost of running a new school. And maybe, if the land in town is a little more, lets build in stages. We could wait on that second ball field, or we could start with half the parking (which is probably still 3 or 4x the parking at current Central!), or we could still share resources with Centennial and save money that way. I want to see the whole picture on costs and benefits, not just little bits of it.

    I’m not necessarily saying Champaign Periphery isn’t the best choice. It may be. I am saying Unit 4 has done little to convince me it is. I hope that changes because like a lot of Central families (past, present, and future), I know it’s time for action. Prove to me this is the right action and you’ll get my vote.

  2. Robert Knilands Says:

    “Have we learned from our past mistakes at all?” Well, no.

    I assume that if Edison moves into the Central building — another bad idea in a long line of bad ideas here — part of the building will be “sealed off,” and then setting up A/C will make more sense.

    At this point, this effort has dragged on for so long that it’s silly to continue to debate whether the site should be north of I-74. There is simply no clearable parcel of land large enough in the central area to house a new school.

    The I-57 problem would be less significant if there hadn’t been a concerted effort to resist adding a lane to I-74 — likely for no other reason other than preventing further exodus from Champaign by people wanting to avoid the Unit 4 craziness — and thus also blocking a needed upgrade of the exit ramps for I-74 and I-57. Now the chances of an accident, followed by much hand-wringing, will be higher.

    • Rebecca Says:

      “At this point, this effort has dragged on for so long that it’s silly to continue to debate whether the site should be north of I-74. There is simply no clearable parcel of land large enough in the central area to house a new school.”

      That also may be true. We were certainly told Country Fair (not my favorite option) was too expensive to clear. But there were no numbers on ongoing savings of shared resources with Centennial that I saw. So perhaps the upfront costs were large, but there may have been overall savings. We were also not told why they eliminated EVERY parcel of land south of 74. Even the one by St. Thomas More did not require almost every kid and staff member to cross the highway. There were other properties on the edge of town to the south that were dismissed without explanation. Further people have long suggested land swaps with the park district or other out of the box thinking. My personal favorite is to take the country club by eminent domain–I jest! I jest.

      My point is the board has not done a satisfactory job of explaining WHY these are the only workable parcels. Which doesn’t bode well when we have to vote on dollars for the school. This election will be won when the voting public is convinced that the school board is giving us thoughtful and accurate information about why it is making the choices it is making. If we can follow along at home and understand the need (and it’s not the Central families you have to convince, it’s everyone else), then the thing is more likely to pass. Right now, we only seem to be getting the information that supports their scenario, which makes it all seem like a fait accompli and that none of what we said (and dozens of meetings, forums, surveys) mattered at all. Not surprisingly, people’s reactions to this seem to be more along the lines of “What the heck?” than “Count me in.”

      • pattsi Says:

        Rebecca, you have made the point that there is not sufficient data to know exactly what will be all of the costs per site. On a number of occasions, I have written about possible sites toward the center of town. Indeed, it will take come creative thinking about the sites, but in the long run for the whole community such creative thinking might turn out to be more beneficial thank the costs and sprawl that will be generated by fringe development. It is not just the actually costs that must be considered, but the externalities that are numerous. Right now Bristol Place is scheduled for scraping and development without a second thought. Yet there is total resistance to even consider such for a in town HS that might improve housing, create economic development, create connectivity between downtown and Market Place, etc.

  3. pattsi Says:

    Just for general information, IDOT has scheduled work for the on and off ramps to help minimize the excessive driving that basically is the contributing factor to the accidents that occur in those areas.

    • Robert Knilands Says:

      Do you mean excessive speed? I don’t doubt that is an issue, but it is certainly not the only issue with those ramps. Even if people drove 10 mph on those ramps, they would then be merging into interstate traffic at 10 mph.

      • pattsi Says:

        Indeed, it is going to fast for the banking of those on and off ramps. I do not know that the speed will be 10 mph or not. The plan in placing warning signs, rumble pavement, etc. All of this can fit into the 2014 budget. A redesign of the 57/74 ramp intersection is in the future due to the extreme cost.

      • Robert Knilands Says:

        But it wouldn’t be in the future due to the extreme cost if people hadn’t revolted against the plan to add that third lane to I-74. I believe that upgrade would have been part of the project.

  4. pattsi Says:

    I understand, but it is still cost driven. You may or may not have read the news articles that note the disparity of funding given to IDOT district 5, which includes our area, and that provided to other districts. Over the years the projected differential is significant. This issue is not resolved. It is always useful for residents of the district to concerns to IDOT. Hearing from citizens often changes the project pecking order.

  5. Robert Knilands Says:

    We’re starting to go in circles. The project was on the list to be funded a few years ago, and somehow, for some reason, people revolted against it, and then it was no longer funded. I have lived in a few states, and I have never once heard of a situation where people disagreed with a plan to add a lane to an already-developed corridor.

    This type of situation is why I get more disgusted with government and especially Champaign-area government. The ramps are unsafe and need to be fixed. The opportunity to do this was passed over. That’s flat-out mismanagement of resources.

  6. Unit 4 responds to a reader’s questions – more information about the potential high school sites | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] posed a number of good questions in a previous post, which I forwarded to the Board and Dr. Wiegand. Today I received a […]

  7. Karen Says:

    If sports are so critical to academic success, then would the admin and board support a no-cut (like Uni) policy for sports teams? Access, equity, etc., right? Also the wants (not needs) list seems co$tly during these economic times (and yes, the economic times of the next several years and ???), so a no-cut policy would broaden the number of students able to participate out from the relatively few select students who make the cuts. I would like to see the citations of the studies the admin and board are reportedly being inundated with so I could read them too (easy one for transparency). I have read literature that does not find a compelling effect on academic achievement. I will try and find those citations and post them. More later (or elsewhere).

  8. Karen Says:

    ‘Less than half of the studies described effect sizes or magnitudes of the associations observed. Reporting of effect sizes can guide researchers and practitioners towards interventions most likely to impact outcomes of interest.’

    ‘Although the studies in this review include examples of moderate and large effect sizes,47,51,63 there were not enough studies analyzing the same variables in any given category to make summary statements about the magnitude of associations between physical activity and academic performance variables. As a result, conclusions do not summarize magnitudes of effect sizes…’

    ‘Very few studies examined the relationships between
    physical activity and academic performance by race
    or ethnicity, so it is difficult to make conclusions at
    this time. Of the seven studies that explored race/ ethnicity, most focused on how race/ethnicity affected participation in physical activity rather than on how it
    influenced the association between physical activity
    and academic achievement’

  9. Karen Says:

    Maybe the Social Justice Committee can analyze with their social justice wheel how this N-of-74 location sizes up relative to other (jn-town) locations–ahead of this (they have a chance to be vocal about it before it’s a done deal).

    • Robert Knilands Says:

      So — is the “solution” simply to drag out the effort, which is already at least 20 years past its needed date?

      I don’t see how waiting for the final announcement of the site, then trying to push the debate back to getting a central location, will accomplish much.

      Also, I should mention the Normal school district accomplished a similar task years ago without all these problems. (And without waiting for its building to be obsolete for 20-plus years.)

      Let’s see — Bloomington-Normal, successful and in its new building for years. Unit 4 — still arguing. There might be a lesson in there for some, although the recent Unit 4 history seems to be a pattern of denial.

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