Building blocking Central expansion

Latest: 10:00 pm, 11/30/17, Thursday 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- People rallied to oppose the school board's plan to tear down the Burnham mansion.

This was another chapter in the long battle over how and where to renovate Central High School. The Burnham mansion is one of ten lots the school board needs to expand the school. But the people who protested say the mansion is part of the city's history and it shouldn't taken away.

They say it's one of the houses which was around during the founding of Champaign as a city and they think that should mean something. But as for the school board, they say this is their best option.

"It's a work of art; a majestic work of art and it would be an absolute travesty to tear this building down."

The Burnham mansion is more than a century old, and it has a historic charm. It's not a designated historic landmark, but that doesn't matter to the protestors.

"This is a very important house. Burnham and Root designed it in 1883 and 1884 and they're one of the preeminent architects in the history of architecture in this country."

That's why dozens stood on the street in front the house to try to save it from being torn down. The school board bought this property along with nine other lots to use as part of the Central High School renovation. But that's unsettling to these people, so they came together to protest the school district's plan to turn the mansion into a parking lot.

"It's easy to put parking somewhere else. It could be a couple three blocks away and still serve the purpose for Central. They don't need to take this down."

They're asking why can't the school just buy other properties instead of tearing down a piece of the city's history? Here's the school board's answer.

"These were the properties that came forward that were willing at a reasonable price and so yes, we could certainly go buy additional properties at the price of millions of dollars."

There's only one way that would change.

"If someone came forward with millions of dollars to save this property to do something with this property and to purchase other property, we would be all ears."

The school board and these protestors do agree on one thing.

"It's so important to get the school renovated and we all know that. But we're just saying that this one house is extremely important for this history of the town and architecture."

The school board has spent the past year planning for this renovation. Last year, voters passed a tax increase to support the school renovations. So at this point, they say this is the best option.

Next week, the city council will take a vote whether to give the home historic landmark status. If they vote no, that means the school district can move forward with demolition plans.

The school board says the renovations to the high school will cost about $87 million. They hope to start in spring. 

Update: 4:15 pm, 11/30/17, Thursday

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- A  group of people is doing all it can to save what some consider a big part of the town's history.

People are rallying outside the Burnham mansion, in the 600-block of Church Street. It's one of three homes the school board wants to tear down to expand Central High School.

People say the building is more than a century old and, if you look at it, you can see its historic charm. That's why many want to save it from being demolished.

It's one of three old houses in line to be torn down to make room for renovations to Central. The school is one block over.

Save the Burnham Mansion Advocacy Group wants to protect it. It's not a designated historic landmark, but it doesn't matter to members of the group.

They city's planning commission voted against nominating the home for historic landmark status, but the reality is, it's all in the hands of the city council to decide its fate. If the council votes against landmark status, the school district could move forward with its demolition plans.

A parking lot and gym access are planned for the space in the school's expansion. 

Original: 5:00 pm, 11/10/17, Friday

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- People who want to preserve a piece of city history are claiming a small victory.

One of three buildings marked for demolition to make way for Central High School's expansion is one step closer to avoiding the bulldozer.

City staff recommend the Burnham House, on Church Street, be granted local historic landmark status.

Neighbors say the loss of the building would have a negative impact on their neighborhood.

The city council will make the final decision.

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