Architects introduced, magnet programming discussed

By Alissa Groeninger

The Champaign School District is looking into turning Booker T. Washington and Garden Hills Elementary schools into magnet schools, or schools with specialized curriculum.

District superintendent Arthur Culver met with school faculty, community members and architects who will redesign Garden Hills and rebuild Booker T. Washington, Wednesday night to discuss possible approaches to the curriculum changes.

Earlier this month the district proposed turning the schools into magnet schools after a September decision to reconstruct the schools.

The construction and planning of the schools will also consider the needs of the afterschool program Boys and Girls Club, the city and park district, which will have access to the buildings.

“We want them to be utilized late in the evening after school and on the weekends,” Culver said.

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Dorland Norris, deputy department superintendent for curriculum design, educational services and equity, said the district wants the schools to appeal to students from all over Champaign.

The meeting was the first in a series that is designed to gauge community support and decide what type of schools the community wants. Magnet schools offer performing arts, technology and science curricula, among other possibilities.

“(We want) to arrive at schools the community feels they are a part of,” said Gene Logas, chief financial officer for the district.

Different architectural firms will construct each building, with BLDD Architects working on Garden Hills Elementary.

Sam Johnson, architect for BLDD, said the firm wants to develop a connection between the building design and the curriculum that will be offered while working with what the community desires.

“It needs to have strong support from the community to be effective,” he said.

Four workshops will be held at Garden Hills to encourage community input, explain trends in magnet schools, show community members the buildings and neighborhood, and name district strengths and weaknesses. By the final two workshops, the participants will consider possible building designs and choose the programming.

OWP/P, a Chicago firm, and Bailey Edwards, a Champaign firm, are working together on Booker T. Washington Elementary.

They will also hold workshops to incorporate community input and figure out what the community desires.

Champaign resident Lynn Stuckey said she believes a magnet school can succeed at Booker T. Washington but worries about Garden Hills because she said the school’s programming is not up to par with other elementary schools in the district.

“The program needs to be working before the addition is made,” she said.

Logas discussed the sales tax referendum that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. He said the district is $15 million in debt, which would be relieved by the sales tax increase. In addition to Garden Hills and Booker T. Washington, the District is looking to fix its elementary schools and build new schools for Carrie Busey Elementary and Central High School, which was last rebuilt in 1934.

The revenue will also be used to pay off bonds from past construction.