The historic “Castle” section of the old Urbana High School was damaged during the destruction of the newer section. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Board settles claim involving damage to old Urbana HS Castle

The Urbana Board of Education has accepted nearly $1 million as part of a settlement claim with a subcontractor after damage was caused to the Castle, a structure that was connected to the old Urbana High School, during the site’s 2018 demolition.

Superintendent Charles Thiel said the damage happened accidentally, as the Castle was attached to the old high school by a bridge. The contractor didn’t realize the building was not structurally sound enough to stand alone once the bridge was removed, he said.

“As they were pulling the buildings’ bricks off, part of the castle split off from its base and kicked into one of the turrets and knocked it down,” Thiel said.

MORE: Demolition begins on East Elementary School in Urbana

The $944,848 settlement was agreed to at a regularly scheduled school board meeting on Feb. 19.

The structure came about after Urbana’s first high school burned down in 1896. A new school was built in the same location, this time with a turreted tower. The building, now referred to as the “Castle,” opened in 1898 along with the new high school, and was given the official name The Castle on the Hill, according to documents from Champaign County’s Genealogy Society.

Urbana opened a new $25 million high school in 2018. Funding for the school was provided by Urbana residents who approved a $31.3 million bond issue to build the new high school as well as a new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade building.

Almost all of the old school was torn down to make room for a parking lot, but the Castle was left standing due to pressure from alumni.

Columbus-based Gilbane Building Company will be in charge of the Castle repair project. Chad Stevers, Gilbane Building Company Senior Project Executive, said the company is looking for construction bids, but the project is slated to start in April.

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“Right now, we are planning to start in April and run through the summer,” Stevers said.

Stevers said the company has been tasked with mostly “buttoning-up” the building.

“What that means is basically repairing where the building was attached to the high school and securing it closed,” Stevers said. “Along with that, we will be doing some masonry work, filling in some doors and fixing up paint.”

Although construction is slated to start in April, Urbana’s class of 2019 will still walk out of the Castle’s front doors and down the hill to the football field for graduation, a tradition the school has maintained since 1941.

“That’s something that is very important to us and to the community,” Thiel said. “The construction company has been told that we have to have it in a state that will be OK for graduation.”

Thiel said construction might even help audience members have a better view of the graduates as they walk from the castle.

“There won’t be anything in the way for the first time,” he said. “If anything the view will be clearer.”

Thiel said the board has no special plans for the Castle after repairs are completed, but the board does plan to use the site for storage until a future use can be determined.

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