Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel stands in front of the new high school currently under construction. Plans call for students to transition to the new building after spring break next year. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
Photo: Jeff Guerini
Photo: Jeff Guerini

Urbana to open $25M new high school after spring break

Existing high school is 120 years old, one of the oldest in the region.

Urbana High School students will head back to school in a little more than two weeks to start the last year in the district’s old building, one of the oldest schools in the region.

School leaders plan for high school students and teachers to transition into the new high school over the 2018 spring break, meaning they will finish the school year in the 88,000-square-foot building currently under construction. The building is next to the 120-year-old high school currently in use.

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“The plan for the building is for it to be done in March,” Superintendent Charles Thiel said. “We are a little bit ahead (of schedule) and we hope to keep ahead to make sure we have everything done and we can move into the building right after April 1.”

The plan to move into a new building in the middle of the school year will be a unique experience, Thiel said, but it’s necessary so crews can start working on demolishing parts of the old high school that will become parking lots for the new building.

“We give them as much time as possible to get as much work completed and be ready to go in the fall,” Thiel said.

About five weeks of school will be left after spring break.

While a lot of the old high school will be torn down during this process, the district will save the original part of the building dubbed the castle. That part of the historic high school is valued by many in the community, Thiel said.

Voters approved a $31 million bond issue for both a new high school and a K-eighth grade primary school on U.S. 68 south of town. The state will pick up about 61 percent of the total costs.

The cost of the new high school is $25 million and the primary school is about $39.5 million.

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Ninth-grade algebra teacher Robin Morgan has been with the district for 26 years and said getting a new building is exciting but change is always scary.

“We are scared of the new things that are going to happen but then all the positive things for the kids and all the things they are going to have,” Morgan said. “You just have to think positively about everything.”

Central air and reliable WiFi are two things Morgan is most excited about, she said. Her classroom currently doesn’t have air conditioning and becomes hot at the beginning of the school year. She buys fans before school starts.

“There is a need for an upgrade, with the WiFi issues that we have and the heat issues,” Morgan said. “The kids in the afternoon are just dying. They need this new building. I think it’s going to be great for the kids.”

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The new high school will be a welcomed change, Thiel said.

“We have invested a lot in our current classrooms but this is going to be a much higher level,” Thiel said. “The comfort and safety of our school are going to be greatly increased.”

Thiel said the school will offer collaboration spaces for teachers to work together and enough space for students to work together and individually to ensure a high quality of education.

Urbana school construction ahead of schedule

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Primary school

The new elementary and middle school is also on target to be completed so it can be open at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year after several issues selecting a site.

“It’s coming along very nicely and is moving very rapidly,” Thiel said of construction. “I have been impressed. Fortunately, we have been able to get most of the ground work laid and they are really pushing hard to get good progress and get as much covered by winter.”

The primary school is a 180,000-square-foot project and will combine the district’s three elementaries and one middle school into one building.

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