Urbana school district purchases property to prepare for long-term expansion

By Megan Kelly

The Urbana School District is one step closer to expanding its adjacent middle and high school campuses.

School board members voted Nov. 20 to purchase property located near the schools at 113 W. Washington St. for $191,500.

Mark Netter, Urbana school board president, said the district hopes to someday purchase all the properties in the block bounded by Iowa, Race and Washington streets and Broadway Avenue extended to provide additional athletic field space.

“To give an idea of how landlocked the campus is, we have about 37 total acres,” Netter said. “Ideally, we need 80 to 100 acres to accommodate both the middle school and the high school.”

Carol Baker, the district’s director of business, said the former owners of the property at 113 W. Washington St. asked the district if it was interested in the property. A deal was made after negotiations, and the district purchased the home. She added that the district is in no hurry to expand the schools, and it considers the project a long-term plan with no definitive end point.

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“We’d rather buy the properties as they come on the market rather than forcing it,” Baker said. “It’s a more friendly way of doing it.”

Netter said the district plans to use the recently purchased land to provide additional space for physical education classes, extracurricular activities and the marching band class. He said the schools were always tight on space, but the issue was not brought into focus until 1999.

“A referendum passed in 1999 built a pool on the middle school’s campus, which took two fields out,” he said. He added that if any one field on the school’s property is damaged, the school does not have any other space available for student use that will allow time to repair the damaged field.

Netter said the renovation forced the baseball team to begin practicing at an off-campus park. Netter also said the soccer team had to spend a season practicing at a University facility.

The property at 113 W. Washington St. is the third home the district obtained this year. Earlier purchases were at 908 S. Race St. and 107 W. Washington St.

Netter said the district plans to either rent out or demolish the houses that it has purchased until it finishes buying all of the properties within its goal area.

“If they’re rentable, we’ll rent them,” Netter said. “If they’re in need of a lot of repairs, we’ll demolish them, especially since the ultimate goal will be to use the property for school programs and activities.”

Netter said he believes Urbana parents are generally supportive of the future expansion project because it will provide more and better instructional and activity facilities.

Mark Schultz, spokesman for the district, said modern campuses have more than 100 acres of land to build on, significantly more than the Urbana schools have available. The lack of space had negatively impacted both schools, he said.

“As the surrounding properties become available for the district to purchase, we hope to eventually expand both campuses to better suit the needs of the children,” Schultz said.