The 16-member group reached unanimous agreement... that Unit 4 definitely needs to update its facilities. This is no small feat; at their final meeting, one Tier Two member even exclaimed something along the lines of "I'm a Republican and I want to pass a large referendum!"
(Watch the video of the final Tier Two meeting here, from 6/9/16; watch the video of the Board meeting here, from 6/13/16. Nicole Lafond's News-Gazette reports on each meeting are here and here, respectively.)
The first question that arose repeatedly during the Tier Two process was how to choose between renovation versus new construction for Unit 4's six most inadequate buildings, and the final Tier Two meeting on 6/9/16 was no exception. Craig Rost (representing the Economic Development Corporation) described encounters during his recent business travel with Japanese officials, who were proudly showing off 500- to 600-year-old buildings still in use. Craig Hays (representing the Champaign Park District) suggested using the term "modernization" instead of "renovation," in order to show that this process would enhance function as well as fixing problems. Laura Weis (representing the Chamber of Commerce) compared 3 high school buildings from oldest to newest -- Central from the 1930's, Centennial from the 1960's, and Lisle High School (built almost entirely without windows in the 1970's) -- to challenge the assumption that newer is always better.
A second question that arose near the end of the Tier Two process involved the financial aspect of long-term planning, with two different approaches on display. At every stage, Al Nudo (an at-large community representative who also spoke on behalf of Keep Central Central) asked how to break down each project into modules, such that capital improvements could be accomplished by adding one module at a time to most closely mirror capacity and curriculum changes. At the other extreme, Jamar Brown (representing the Black Chamber of Commerce) frequently articulated his view that as many capital projects as possible should be addressed -- and addressed completely -- as soon as possible. His reasoning: that as Board membership changes or as community priorities change, projects left half done or undone are in danger of being completed in a piecemeal fashion (two words: Dr. Howard) or not at all.
If our community continues to define these two questions only through opposing viewpoints, we will sabotage our progress. To move these facilities discussions forward -- as a community -- we must explore the middle ground that exists between the extremes. For example, Tier Two eventually endorsed a plan for Central that involves targeted demolition of the least functional areas of the old building, adding 200,000 sq. ft. of brand new construction, and renovating ("modernizing"?) the remaining 170,000 sq. ft. of the original historic building.
|Proposed Scheme for Central High School: Tier Two 6/16|
Similar compromises will be needed when the Board decides on a dollar amount for any future referendum: how many complete projects will our community support? or are there parts of any of these projects that we can realistically divide between now and later?
During their final meeting, the Tier Two committee reflected on the influence of Keep Central Central (KCC), which opposed the district's April 2015 referendum. Clarissa Fourman (representing the Champaign City Council) expressed ambivalence about whether KCC had overly influenced the group's ultimate recommendation to re-work Central on its current site. However, other members of the Tier Two committee responded that they had reached that decision solely based on the merits of the options explored by the committee -- a committee of 16 containing only 1 KCC member.
KCC may have played a significant role in the defeat of the previous referendum, but it was that same electoral defeat that led the current Board to initiate the two-tiered, long-term facilities planning process that created this Tier Two report. Many more stakeholders in our diverse district participated in the Tier Two process -- as committee members, as audience members, as questioners -- and many voices contributed to the lively debates and the concrete plans on the table. Now Tier Two has passed the baton back to the School Board, but the conversation is not over.
Mark your calendar for two Town Hall Meetings: June 23 and July 14, 2016. (Details can be found here.) Let's continue this conversation, remembering that improving even a single building in our district improves our entire community.