Demolition begins on old Urbana High School building

Demolition has started on a big part of Urbana history.

Sections of the old Urbana High School building began coming down at the site late last month. Parts of the building, which served the community for over 120 years, have been removed, including the junior high gymnasium and part of the three-storey building that housed the school. More sections are set to be removed in the coming weeks, but the main part of the structure, constructed in 1897, will be preserved.

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Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said current and former students have called the demolition “bittersweet.”

“We’ve posted some things on social media and seen some things around and a lot of people are sad,” he said. “A lot of people have a lot of good memories there.”

Thiel said no new structures will be built on the site, but a parking lot will be placed there once the demolition is finished.

A section of the structure known as the castle will remain.

While many are sad to see the old building go, he said they’ve been understanding that it had to happen, especially since students at the high school recently moved to the new Urbana High School building in April.

“People know that the building is no longer there, but they know we’ve got a new building that’s accessible, energy efficient and safer,” Thiel said. “It just has so many more features than what we could ever do in the old building.”

Thiel said they looked hard at whether they could update and reuse the old buildings, but with the required maintenance, it made more economic sense to construct a new one. Urbana voters approved a $31.3 million bond issue in 2014 to help fund the new Urbana High School, as well as a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building. Funding from the state was used to cover the rest of the costs.

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Thiel said even though much of the building will be gone, preserving the castle itself is the least they could do because of how important it is to the community.

“I think the one key piece for us as a community is keeping the castle,” he said. “That’s kind of the cornerstone of the school district of this community.”

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