Champaign voters to see $149 million ballot question for new schools this November

CHAMPAIGN—Champaign voters will decide this November whether the school district can issue close to $149 million in bonds to build a new high school from scratch and renovate an existing one.

Students say it's time to bring their schools into the 21st century.

 “I definitely feel like it is necessary to update our facilities,” said Central High School student and school board student ambassador, Cedric Jones.

But doing so comes at a price. Architects estimate it will take close to $149 million to overhaul the Champaign high schools. But the Champaign Unit 4 School District doesn't have that kind of money, so board members approved a resolution to let voters decide on Election Day whether Unit 4 could issue bonds to cover the cost.

“Teachers have been dreaming, kids have been dreaming,” said board president Laurie Bonnett. “Our fifth graders, should referendum pass in November, they would be the first group of people to attend our high school.”

If approved, nearly 98 million would go toward building a brand new Central High School on Interstate Drive, while $52 million would help renovate Centennial High School at it's current location. Each school would have state of the art science labs and athletic facilities, and learning studios would replace the common-day classrooms.

But despite the updates, some parents still have reservations.

“It would be the first time I ever vote against building new schools and I would be sending my kids to the old Central,” said Kathy, a parent of two students that will be entering high school within the next few years.

If the referendum fails, experts say the cost of improvements would increase by the millions with each passing year, which is why the board urged the public to act now.

“It's time for us to take some action, it's time for us to do what other people, not what they couldn't do, but what they didn't do,” said Laurie Bonnett.

The original ballot question asked residents for $150 million to be issues in bonds. However, members agreed to cut down the cost to $148.95 million, closer to the estimated cost of the project. If the referendum passes this November, the money would be paid back through an increase in property taxes that would amount to an additional $140-160 a year for a home assessed at $100,000 home.

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