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10 key takeaways from the Park Board meeting on Dodds Park

It seems no matter where you access your local media, there are writers advocating on behalf of using Dodds Park as the preferred high school site for Central High School. There is even an organized political effort in support of building Central HS at Dodds Park. Last night, the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the matter for the first time with the elected park board. While more speakers spoke out against using Dodds as a school site, the community is clearly divided and those on either side are clearly passionate. I don’t have a horse in this race and I don’t have strong opinions about any of the proposed locations. Am I the only unbiased person left?  Here are 10 takeaways from last night without the propaganda, background political noise, or detailed political analysis:

  1. More speakers were in favor of keeping Dodds Park only Dodds Park. There was plenty of supportive clapping from the crowd for each side of the argument. The N-G story is here and you can listen to the meeting here.
  2. By accepting grant money in the past, Dodds Park can only be used for recreational purposes unless they get a formal exemption. CPD Executive Director Joe Deluce suggested that this could take a year ear while another Park Commissioner suggested this could take up to seven years. The News-Gazette explains this “major roadblock” here.
  3. Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand suggested that Unit 4 needs a solid decision within two years while an additional three years would be planned for construction. So if the desired Dodds Park use exemption takes more than 2 years, they might have to revert back to Interstate Drive because of capacity issues. While previously citing a sense of urgency to pass the proposed referendum, they made it clear they would be willing to take some time in order to choose a superior site. This is not consistent with the message they shared immediately after the election where Unit 4 officials suggested they would “tweak” the referendum and would not consider alternative sites.  
  4. The only position that Parkland President Tom Ramage shared was that the College would be concerned with transportation and security issues. He made it clear the Board of Trustees has not taken up the issue of collaborating with Unit 4 except for shared use of the tennis courts.
  5. There were concerns raised from multiple speakers about the shared use of public schools and intermingling of young high school students and Parkland College students. School Board member Lynn Stuckey took exception to that notion and pointed out there can be controlled shared use of a swimming pool that limits access to college students when the pool is being used by high school students. Oddly, she mentioned she will be living for 53 more years and will not be living in the “People’s Republic of Urbana”. This dig at Urbana is particularly interesting since Urbana Schools have been proactive about growth have planned ahead by buying properties around their school.  
  6. The costs to replicate Dodds Park on another site would cost approximately $4.1 to $4.5M, according to multiple architectural firms. Someone from the crowd took exception to that estimate and suggested that the actual costs would be in the $7M range. The N-G explains this topic in more detail here.
  7. Any estimate of school costs to build at Dodds Park is largely based on “conjecture” as detailed engineering plans have not been used in any cost estimates. Unit 4 deflected the notion of paying for the $4M+ ball fields by suggesting that is premature and that detail would be a negotiated only if the park board voted to move forward with swapping Dodds Park.
  8. The Kathy candidates (Kathy Richards and Kathy Shannon) both took the microphone and advocated in favor of Dodds Park and are both running for Unit 4 School Board. Kathy Richards is behind the organized effort and petition drive to encourage the Park Board to give up Dodds Park in a land swap with Unit 4.
  9. Parkland College & The City of Champaign have not taken positions on the proposed Dodds Park location. Parkland wants to be involved in the discussion while the City of Champaign seems eager to support the project no matter what site is chosen. The MTD prefers Parkland College from purely a transportation point of view.
  10. This was the most organized public meeting I’ve ever been to with greeters, child care, and food and snacks being offered. While access to public internet was limited, a park district employee typed the WIFI password into my computer and gave bloggers press privileges. Even though they had me at the water and cookies, I have to give props to the Park District for being phenomenal hosts. Well done, folks! 

There is plenty of time for analysis, political backstories, etc. In the meantime, a large number of people are getting more involved in the community discussion.  These don’t seem to be the usual political activists. It is nice to see a large number of people turn out at a local park board meeting, regardless of topic or opinion. The next Park Board meeting is March 11th. If you have a strong opinion, you might want to show up. If you can’t, I’ll be live-tweeting and you can follow me @ericbussell.  Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to vote on April 7th.

(ed. note: Kathy Richards is not behind the petitions to encourage the Park Board to give up Dodds Park. We are unsure of who is, in fact, behind the petitions.)

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