Champaign community to vote on new high school referendum

By Anike Owoye

Champaign voters will be asked to decide on a referendum to build a new Central High School and renovate Centennial High School in Champaign in the upcoming Midterm elections on Nov. 4. The referendum was proposed by the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation and Unit 4 school district in an effort to address the problem of overcrowding that is occurring at both Central and Centennial High Schools.

The project would cost $149 million and would be paid for with taxpayers’ dollars, according to the proposal. 

A presentation for the referendum was hosted Sunday night at Rose and Taylor barber shop and beauty salon in Champaign, where leaders in Champaign County education explained the potential benefits of the referendum on the community. Community members and University students attended the forum to ask questions regarding the possible effects the new high school and renovations would have, particularly on how the projects would be paid for.

According to the school district’s website, which details the referendum, there would be a tax increase of $140 per year, or $11.67 per month on $100,000 of assessed home value. Of the money collected, $51.3 million would go toward renovating Centennial High school and $97.7  million would go toward building a new Central High School. 

Judy Wiegand, Superintendent of the Champaign School district, said the district would not tear down Central High School in the process, but use it for other purposes.

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    Jamar Brown, vice president of the Champaign School Board, said both schools are at 104 percent capacity and that if nothing was done to address this need, there would be 500 students without seats by 2022.

    Wiegand said by that time the schools will be at 120 percent capacity.

    If the referendum passes, Unit 4 School District Community Relations Coordinator Stephanie Stuart said construction on the new Central High School and renovations on Centennial High School will begin in August 2015 and be completed by August 2018. If the referendum does not pass, the high schools will continue to use trailers to make space for an increasing number of students. 

    “Our students should be able to have the same type of access to programs that their peers have in other communities and in other high schools. And right now, they aren’t able to have that,” Wiegan said. 

    The update would provide students with the necessary technology, labs and equipment to learn STEM-related skills, which include science, technology, engineering and math, said Joe Williams, principal of Central High school. 

    William Jones, committee member of the Human Relations Commission, said that the community is concerned about the tax increase. However, Wiegand said she believes people have to put the $11 to $12 a month into perspective, and remember that it is an investment that will last for 50 to 70 years.

    Wiegand said that based on community polling, she is confident the referendum will pass.

    Jones added that eventually a new school will be built and if voters choose to delay the referendum costs for construction and renovations, $4.5 million would be added each year that the project is put off.

    “At the end of the day its about what’s right for the students,” Jones said.

    Anike can be reached at [email protected].