Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Deeper Exploration of Central and Centennial Options from Tier Two 5/19/16

At last week's meeting of the Tier Two committee on 5/19/16, preliminary budgets for Central and Centennial High Schools' construction and/or renovation were presented. (See the complete architect/construction management team presentation here.) As they have done at previous meetings for the four other schools under discussion, the team presented conceptual test fits and associated budgets for each project. Please see here for a reminder of how these budgets relate to the planning process.

Readers of this blog will probably have already seen the next day's headline in the News-Gazette: "Interstate Drive site off the table" (and the article here). While the Tier Two committee is only empowered to make recommendations to the School Board -- who make final decisions on how to move forward -- the committee's vote to include only the on-site Central options in its deliberations deserves further explanation here.

The briefest of meeting summaries would read as follows:
Centennial needs renovations and additions; Central needs more renovations and additions, or could be demolished and rebuilt; and the task of addressing both buildings' inadequacies for programming and for capacity will cost money.
Knowing the above summary doesn't capture what made that Tier Two meeting last for over two hours, I want to touch on three themes that surfaced repeatedly during the evening's discussion: preservation, school capacity, and MTD costs.

Not only does part of the current Central building date from the 1930's, the neighborhood that surrounds it is even older. Some of the properties which would be slated for demolition if the Board exercises any or all of the options it has purchased date from the nineteenth century.

Existing Central campus and Optioned Properties
Preservationists and urban planners are thus faced with a dilemma: if a historic school building has so thoroughly outgrown its original mission, as Central has (see here), what educational options are least destructive to history?

Ceasing to use the building as a school altogether in favor of new construction elsewhere leaves the most historic structures intact (for now), but negatively impacts the vitality and usefulness of the neighborhood. Few developers are interested in purchasing abandoned school buildings and might eventually choose demolition anyway.

Demolishing properties of historic significance around the existing school comes at a cost to the community of forever losing those buildings. However, all of the current owners of those buildings want to sell them to Unit 4, and none of the owners are currently operating the buildings in a way that educates the community about the lives and achievements of their original owners.

Using the Central building for other Unit 4 functions (administrative offices? Novak Academy?) would require the least outwardly visible renovation, but would still necessitate building a new high school elsewhere in town at a location that satisfies the Settlement Agreement. After an extensive search by multiple school boards that was revisited by the Tier Two committee earlier this spring, the only locations identified would require either significant property seizure through eminent domain or would contribute to urban sprawl.

The community will have to arrive at a compromise of some sort, together, because inaction is no longer an option.

School capacity
Another question that surfaces repeatedly is the question of capacity. Current student enrollment at Central and Centennial is around 1300 and 1500 respectively. The district has charged the architects with planning for a total high school capacity of 3400 (to better house the current student population as well as to accommodate future growth), with the idea of 1700 students at each school.

Some members of the Tier Two committee have asked the architect/construction management team to examine what an unequal distribution of students across the two schools might look like, both in concept and in cost. Here are the results:

First, I will show a comparison of Centennial for 1700 to Centennial for 1900. (Note in the complete presentation that either plan could add $3.7 million to the cost range by deleting the gym addition and adding a fieldhouse instead.)

Proposed Centennial for 1700 students

Proposed Centennial for 1900 students
And here is a comparison of the selective demolition/addition/renovation option of Central for 1700 to Central for 1500. (Note that the complete presentation also contains options for Central to be demolished and rebuilt on the old McKinley YMCA property, but I've not posted those images here. All budgets for Central options include any costs of property acquisition and site preparation, as well as complete renovation of any existing building.)

Proposed Central at 1700
Proposed Central at 1500
The take-home point from the architects about capacity is that the size of the core spaces in each school (such as gymnasiums, music rooms, cafeterias, libraries, etc.) remain the same when you vary the total capacity by 200 students. The only part of the plans that change -- in this conceptual test fit phase -- is additional classrooms for those 200 students. As a result, the site fit in either case is not tremendously affected, making the question of total enrollment more of a curriculum/programming question than a site planning question.

It will fall to the Unit 4 administration to weigh the pros and cons of equal vs. unequal capacity, since it would affect everything from community districting to sports conferences to hiring to course offerings. (And interestingly, as Central principal Joe Williams noted at the meeting, the options presented here for constructing each school to hold 1700 students total $.7 to .8 million cheaper than the options for unequal enrollment at 1500 + 1900.)

MTD costs
MTD director Karl Gnadt discussed preliminary figures with the Tier Two committee (see his notes here) of the additional costs for Unit 4 to transport students to a Central High School built at the Interstate Drive site. 

The Unit 4 Board just approved the Transportation Agreement between Unit 4 and the MTD for the school year 2016-17 (on 4/25/16), which will cost the district approximately $369,000 for MTD transportation of eligible 6-12 grade students. (Just an FYI for blog readers: the MTD only charges Unit 4 35% of the total costs to transport its students; the Illinois Department of Transportation pays the other 65%.) Mr. Gnadt picked SY2019, projected inflation-adjusted costs of serving our current schools to be closer to $400,000, and calculated if Central relocated to Interstate the annual total cost to the district would at least double: $800,000 to $850,000 per year. In addition, the MTD would need to purchase up to 12 additional buses, with Unit 4 bearing some significant portion of the over $8 million cost.

Some readers will recall that the MTD provided a similar estimate of the doubling of annual transportation costs for the Interstate site nearly two years ago; however, the resulting public discussion of these figures happened mostly in the media. This time, Mr. Gnadt was able to answer questions from Tier Two and describe in greater detail just how much the MTD has integrated its school service into its regular service, as well as how much it combines school routes with each other. Removing even a single building away from other schools, as well as away from other community locations currently served by the MTD, incurs such a great cost precisely because of this tight integration happening now. My son, who on his MTD bus to Edison rode with students from 4 other schools as well as with regular adults headed to work, would be happy to attest to the MTD's current efficiency in this regard.

Other transportation-related costs for Central at Interstate, not included in this estimate:
  • increased time spent by students on the bus
  • increased need for bus transfers at Country Fair
  • early arrival of students at middle schools before buses travel to Interstate
  • increase in behavior problems and/or supervision costs as a result of those first three items
  • increase in MTD costs for Urbana District 116 (they also benefit from the current tight integration of routes)
  • increase in transportation costs for individual students/families

Given this information, and given the fact that two referendums placing Central at Interstate have already been defeated, the majority of the Tier Two committee voted to take that option off the table. The architect/construction management team is still tweaking a detailed comparison summary of total cost (locating Central onsite compared to at Interstate), so that document will soon be available. I hope this blog post has helped readers have a fuller understanding of why Tier Two made this decision.


Please look over all the plans presented at last week's meeting -- including those for proposed extracurricular sports facilities for Central at South Side, Franklin, and Spalding -- and let me know if there are other questions that I can answer here or that Tier Two can answer at their next meeting: Thursday, 5/26/16, 6:00pm at the Mellon Building. An updated agenda for that meeting is now available here; note that the finance presentation has been moved to next week, June 2 at 6:00pm [new meeting added to schedule!] to allow for more discussion this week of plans for South Side, Central, and Centennial.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Board Meeting Preview and Tier Two Preview

Lots of Unit 4 student and family milestones are approaching in the next two weeks! Monday will bring 8th-grade promotion ceremonies at our three middle schools. Later this week, our regular calendar elementary schools will recognize 5th-grade students as they end their elementary careers. Next week: balanced calendar 5th-graders will celebrate, and Central and Centennial will hold their 2016 Commencement ceremonies (at Krannert on 5/31 and 6/1, respectively).

My family will be celebrating our 8th-grader as he finishes middle school. May all your celebrations be safe and full of joy!

I call your attention to two meetings this week:

5/23/16 Board Meeting 6:00pm (tonight)

We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

The reality of schools operating at or over capacity is already upon us. We will be voting to approve two new portable classrooms for the 2016-17 school year, at Jefferson Middle School and Centennial High School. (A breakdown of the costs is available as an attachment to the agenda.) In other facility-related news, we look forward to a presentation from a new perspective: views on facilities gathered from our elementary, middle, and high school students.

Another presentation on Monday's meeting agenda recognizes the progress Unit 4 has made in opening up its Advanced Placement classes to students from previously underrepresented populations. The Board is asked to approve an invitation from the State of Illinois to join the 2016-17 Lead Higher district cohort. If approved, this partnership between our district and the Lead Higher Initiative will provide additional tools, resources, and support toward this goal. 

5/26/16 Tier Two Meeting 6:00pm (also in the Mellon Building Board Room, 703 S. New St.)

Look for the agenda for this meeting to be posted soon. The tentative plan for the meeting includes an overview of budgeting for the projects previously discussed, along with a discussion of how Unit 4 finances capital projects.**

A summary of the Tier Two meeting of 5/19/16 is still forthcoming from your faithful blogger. In the meantime, here is a link to the meeting, and here is Nicole Lafond's report in the News-Gazette.


Did you know? Union contract negotiations between Unit 4 and the Champaign Federation of Teachers (CFT) and between Unit 4 and the Champaign Educational Support Professionals (CESP) have already begun. Just in case you were worried that we weren't keeping busy...

**UPDATE 5/25/16 The agenda for the 5/26/16 Tier Two Committee meeting has been changed, to give committee members the opportunity for more discussion of the options for South Side, Centennial, and Central. An additional Tier Two meeting has been added for Thursday, June 2nd at 6:00pm and the finance presentation will be given then.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tier Two Focus on High Schools 5/19/16; Recap of South Side/Edison Budget Meeting 5/5/16

Come and bring a friend to this Thursday's meeting of the Tier Two Facilities Committee, 5/19/16 at 6:00pm (Mellon Building, 703 S. New St.) The primary item on the evening's agenda is the long-awaited Preliminary Budget Presentation from our architect/construction management team about Unit 4's high school facilities. As always, feel free to voice your ideas during Public Comment.

We can't stress enough that the theme of this meeting, as with all of the Tier Two meetings this spring, will be the exchange and discussion of information and ideas, now with the addition of some carefully calculated dollar estimates. Emotions tend to run high in our community when we talk about our high schools, and that's a good thing -- we care about our kids, about our Chargers and our Maroons, and about our community. I'm excited that we will have an opportunity on Thursday to learn about the cost ranges of different plans that the committee has been examining.

Our biggest challenge on Thursday will be maintaining Tier Two's focus on the big picture. Everyone has an opinion on what should happen to Central, because it represents probably the single most expensive piece of the Unit 4 facilities puzzle. However, this is not yet the time to craft a referendum, this is not yet the time to pick construction materials for Central's band room, this is not even the time to decide that the cheapest option is the best one. Given the current consensus that Champaign's two high school facilities need to be brought into the twenty-first century in order to address pressing curriculum and capacity needs, we need information to decide what solutions are possible.

Here's some homework to do before Thursday, recommended by Board member and Tier Two committee member Amy Armstrong: read this brief 2009 essay on the history of public education in Champaign. It should serve to remind us that we have neither the first nor the last word on the ongoing K-12 project of educating our future citizens.


Playing blog catch-up:

At the previous meeting of the Tier Two committee on 5/5/16, the schools in the spotlight were South Side Elementary and Edison Middle School. See the architect/construction management team presentation here. As they did with Dr. Howard and IPA at the meeting on 4/21/16, and as they will do for Central and Centennial this Thursday, the team presented conceptual test fits and associated budgets for the schools in question. Please see here to review how these budgets relate to the planning process.

For each school, the committee discussed a renovation option and a build-new option. A brief summary of these discussions yields interesting points about larger facilities questions.

For South Side, Option A involves substantial renovation to the existing building and constructing an addition.
South Side Option A: Addition and renovation

Option B involves building a completely new school next to the site of the old building, which would be demolished.
South Side Option B: New school
Note that the cost range for the new build at South Side (Option B) is higher than the range for the addition and remodel (Option A) because the original building offers much that is usable; according to the team, the most intensive and expensive level of renovation is not needed here. However, the current design for Option A is still not accessible at all entrances, and does not yet indicate where future expansion (from two to three strands of students) might be possible. Given this information, the Tier Two committee recommended the need to gather further input from staff and neighbors of the school, in order to better understand how much attachment the community has to the current building.

For Edison, the committee also considered two options. However, the build-new option for Edison was sited on almost 16 acres of land owned by Unit 4 near Barkstall, since the current building sits on only 3-1/2 acres. Here are the two options:

Edison, Addition and Renovation Onsite

Edison, New at Barkstall
The architect/construction management team discussed the scope of the renovation that would be required on the current Edison building, which like the current South Side building would need significant work on the "envelope" of the building (structural integrity/energy efficiency) as well as system upgrades throughout (HVAC/electric/etc.). The budget figures do include the costs that result from phasing the construction/renovation around student attendance.

Several residents of the neighborhood near Edison attended the meeting to speak in favor of keeping Edison at its current location (see Nicole Lafond's summary of the meeting in the News-Gazette here). Recognizing that the choice between the two sites involves more than just construction numbers (transportation costs, neighborhood fabric, building re-use, to cite just a few factors), and learning that life-cycle cost analysis can really only be done during the design phase, the Tier Two committee ultimately decided to table the Edison-at-Barkstall option for now. However, it is clear that at some point down the road, a facilities plan will need to address the need for a fourth middle school in Unit 4, whether at IPA or Barkstall or some other location yet to be named.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Did You Know?

Did you know...

...The Tier Two Special Committee on Facilities has been meeting weekly since February? And that it consists of 16 volunteer members with other professional and family responsibilities? And that they are charged with presenting a long-term facilities plan for Unit 4 to the Board in June?

Because a parent told me, "I didn't realize they were doing anything important."

Did you know...

... The local media have been covering the entire Tier Two process, especially the News-Gazette, which has sent reporter Nicole Lafond to each meeting? (Here is her summary of Thursday's meeting.) She conveys a great deal of information in a restricted amount of space and on a tight deadline.

Because a community member told me, "I don't read the local paper."

Did you know...

... The current school board has repeatedly stated its commitment to making our facility planning process open and inclusive? And that each Tier Two meeting offers multiple opportunities for public comment? And that emails to committee members and Unit 4 representatives are both answered and shared at the meetings? And that agendas, documents, minutes, and videos of the meetings are all posted in a dedicated section of the Unit 4 website?

Because a PTA member told me, "I don't have time to attend more meetings."

Did you know...

... Unit 4 hired a team of architects (Perkins + Will and IGW) and construction managers (O'Shea Builders) who have extensive experience working together with communities to remodel old schools and build new ones, depending on the priorities of each community? And that they have been working with the Tier Two committee to develop options for the six school buildings needing the most attention? And that their goal is to provide the best possible dollar estimates, along with multiple targeted contingencies, so that the Tier Two committee and the Unit 4 community can put numbers to the scope of the work needed on our long-neglected facilities to ensure they stand the test of time?

Because a critic told me, "I don't think the buildings look that bad."

Did you know...

... This blog contains posts which summarize the key information from Tier Two meetings? [Author's note: YES you do know! Thanks for reading!] And that each new blog post, along with other relevant Unit 4 information, is publicized in multiple social media outlets by Unit 4 staff and by multiple members of the Board?

Because a friend told me, "I wish someone would summarize all this information for me."


5/9/16 Board Meeting, 6:00pm

Don't forget Monday's regular meeting of the Board of Education. We meet in the Mellon Building, 703 S. New St. (next to South Side Elementary School) at 5:30pm, with the Open Session beginning closer to 6:00pm. Members of the public are welcome to observe, and to address the Board (for up to 3 minutes) during the designated public comment period. You can find the meeting agenda here. (Be sure to click on each agenda item to bring up additional information or description, including any attached documents.)

Meeting highlights will include recognitions: of the May Staff Spotlight Winner, Candy Severns of Carrie Busey Elementary, as well as of the student artists of Unit 4 whose work will hang in the Mellon Building this summer. We will discuss proposed changes to the Student Code of Conduct in response to the implementation of Senate Bill 100, and we will hear a presentation about the District’s communication and community engagement goals and indicators. Please join us!