Urbana District 116

URBANA — The short- and long-term future of Urbana’s 73-year-old Wiley Elementary School will be up for discussion at tonight’s Urbana school board meeting.

The board will kick off a conversation about whether to shut down Wiley for the 2023-’24 school year to abate asbestos and decide how to use the centrally located facility.

“The question remains: Does the district want to keep Wiley Elementary as a neighborhood attendance area or leverage its physical location — pretty much in the center of our buildings — to house a districtwide program?” board President Paul Poulosky said Monday.

Administrators recommend that Wiley be shuttered in May to complete asbestos abatement and prepare for its long-awaited renovation.

According to the presentation scheduled for tonight’s study session, Urbana’s five other elementary schools — Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Leal, Thomas Paine and Yankee Ridge — have enough space to take in Wiley’s current and incoming students next year.

There are 292 available elementary seats in the district, and 243 students currently enrolled at Wiley.

The district’s human resources department can “ensure” that all of Wiley’s continuing teachers and support staff would find placements using existing vacancies.

“This restructuring will help staffing shortages districtwide. We would be able to fill open positions and vacancies with licensed, trained educators across the district,” according to the presentation.

If the board proceeds, a few options are on the table for Wiley’s future.

It could return as Urbana’s sixth neighborhood elementary school, or be reinvented as a “destination location” with a specialized curriculum, like an international baccalaureate program, a balanced-calendar or “magnet” school, or a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academy.

The building may also become the site for a whole-school Spanish dual-language building in Urbana (which some administrators and program teachers have advocated for), a grade 6-8 dual-language center, or the district’s new central office, according to the presentation.

Don’t expect the board to make a decision any time soon, Poulosky said.

“If the board decides to proceed with an immediate asbestos abatement, it would take the next year to hold committees, talk to all possible stakeholders and talk to people in the Wiley community to figure out what to do with the building and how to refurbish it,” Poulosky said.

Wiley is the final Urbana elementary school in need of a modernized upgrade as promised in the countywide 1-cent sales-tax increase that voters approved in 2009.

“For other refurbishment projects, we were able to do construction while school was still going on,” Poulosky said. “We can’t do that at Wiley because of asbestos.”

District administrators previously believed they wouldn’t be “able to touch Wiley for five or six years,” Poulosky said. But a November presentation from bond underwriter Stifel showed that the district could use bonds based on sales-tax revenue to accelerate the Wiley project.

By making interest-only payments for a few years, then another 10 years’ worth of interest and principal payments, the district could borrow $20 million to $25 million to finance a refurbishment of Wiley, Poulosky said.

The discussion is set for the tail end of today’s study session, set to start at 6:30 p.m. at the Jean F. Burkholder Administrative Service Center at 205 N. Race St.