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Urbana City Schools seeks community input for new buildings

Urbana City Schools are the oldest in Champaign County, not accessible for disabled students and have minimal security features, so the district wants community input on how to improve its buildings.

“We are at that point we have to ask that question to the community,” Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said.

The district has gone to ballot to build new schools from 2004 to 2006, and voters repeatedly rejected the tax requests.

The district has tasked a steering committee to evaluate the current state of its buildings and will hold a community forum at 7:30 p.m. March 11 in the high school auditorium.

The steering committee also is conducting a survey to gather more information from the community online at

The average age for the main structure in the system’s six schools is 93 years old.

Tim Weller is a local business owner and has had four generations of his family attend Urbana Local Elementary School at 2468 Ohio 54.

Wellers said he is a conservative Republican, but said he would vote for a tax issue to improve the school buildings because he’d like to see his son, who is a freshman at Urbana High School, graduate from a renovated Urbana High School.

“I’m seeing this community slowly deteriorate and I think one of the several reasons is because we won’t get behind this school system and do what needs to get done,” he said.

Although he isn’t optimistic that a ballot issue will pass, Weller said the condition of the buildings could be hurting the economy.

“If you are a business owner and are looking for a community to expand or grow in, the fact that we are the only system in the county not to build new schools in forever, it looks pretty bad,” Weller said.

One option could be placing another issue on the November ballot, Thiel said, if that’s what participants in the community forums recommend. If the voters pass a levy for a new school on the November ballot, the state would foot the majority of the bill.

This year the state would cover 61 percent of the bill and the district would pay for 39 percent.

Thiel said the accessibility and security standards have changed in the past century.

“In 1901, they didn’t think about people coming to school to shoot at students,” he said.

A steering committee member’s child is disabled and he can no longer go to high school with his classmates because it is not accessible, Thiel said.

“That’s one of the frustrating pieces as an educator. You are eliminating someone from that opportunity, because of the lack of accessibility,” he said.

The old buildings also are affecting the quality of education, Thiel said.

Some of the school buildings don’t have air conditioning and one school does not have a back-up heater.

“We feel like there are days we don’t make a tremendous amount of educational and instructional ground because of those temperatures,” he said.

Thiel said it will be up to the community and steering committee to make the final decision on what could possibly go on a November ballot, but he believes the high school will stay at its current location.

“It’s on the top of the hill we are the Hillclimbers,” Thiel said.

Weller agreed.

“There is a an awful lot of Hillclimber pride in this community and the castle on the hill is a romantic tradition that span’s a lot of generations and to not have a high school on that hill is probably going to be a tough thing to sell,” he said.

Thiel said he likes the idea of putting a new middle school and elementary school on the 60 acres of land on Community Drive near the Champaign Family YMCA the district bought in 2005.

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