Urgent: Save The Historic Burnham House

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Urgent: Save The Historic Burnham House

This petition had 13,659 supporters

Save Burnham Champaign started this petition to Board President, U4SD Chris Kloeppel and

Petition to Save the Historic Burnham House - Please share widely!

UPDATE May 10, 2018: U of I School of Architecture alum Mr Chris Enck recently  agreed with the School Board terms to purchase and move the historic and architecturally important 1884 Burnham house that was fated to be demolished and replaced by a parking lot. According to the terms, the move must occur by July 2018.  A Go Fund Me site has been set up by Mr Enck to support the considerable expenses involved in purchasing a new site, prepping the site, and moving the mansion. Please give generously to save this beautiful historic residence and the magnificent architectural legacy of Burnham and Root:    https://www.gofundme.com/moving-the-burnham-mansion

Thank you Chris Enck, Thank you Unit 4 School Board, Thank you to all who  appreciate and respect the enormous architectural legacy we have in our midst, Thank you to all who are working so hard and who are contributing any amount to save this historical jewel. 

For information and photos of the Burnham House and its architectural legacy, see http://SaveBurnham.weebly.com and saveburnhammansionchampaign on Facebook or Follow us on https://twitter.com/savetheburnham


 Please follow us on twitter: https://twitter.com/savetheburnham and help us to spread this urgent message: #savetheburnham

The 1884 Burnham House was designed by architect Daniel Burnham, one of the most famous architects and urban planners in the world, akin to Frederick Law Olmsted and Frank Lloyd Wright. Burnham designed iconic buildings all over the country that are significant in American architectural history, including one of New York City's most famous landmarks, the much loved Flatiron Building, as well as Washington DC's Union Station and National Mall, Chicago’s magnificent Field Museum, the Chicago World's Fair, Marshall Fields, the Rookery and even London's Selfridges and the dome on California's Mount Wilson Observatory. 

Burnham designed few residential buildings. Only 10 Burnham homes exist in the world and Champaign is extremely fortunate to have one: the magnificent 1884 Burnham House. This house was purchased by the Champaign School Board in 2017 in order to demolish it for a parking lot.

Burnham and Root designed the Burnham House In 1883 for Albert and Julia Burnham, two of Champaign's key historical figures. The Burnhams were major philanthropists for the citizens of Champaign, focusing on the welfare and enhancement of their community and providing substantial gifts to establish two important local institutions, Champaign’s first hospital, the Julia F. Burnham Hospital (now demolished), and Champaign's first permanent public library, the Burnham Athenaeum.

Unfortunately, the current School Board is forging ahead with plans to demolish the Burnham House and several other historic properties, including the Captain Bailey Home across the street, as soon as this April.  Rushing to do so is reckless, particularly when plans are unclear and may change. This destruction of Champaign’s cultural and historic legacy will impact our community and far beyond. Once the Burnham is gone, it is lost forever. Please sign the petition to save the very historic Burnham House from demolition.

The historic Burnham House should be preserved for multiple reasons:

1) Clearly Central High School needs to be renovated and vastly improved, however the Burnham House lies outside the intended footprint of renovated and expanded Central High School and does NOT hinder school expansion. The school expansion can proceed without disturbing the Burnham. In fact, the Burnham could be an asset for education.

2) The School Board wants to tear down the Burnham so it can provide ~25 more parking spaces. The School Board is doubling the number of parking spaces that currently exist at Central, even without the Burnham property. Teachers and staff can have designated parking. One of the major reasons to keep Central High School centrally located was so all would not have to drive to school.  Bus service is excellent in our community. Walking and biking are healthy. The general trend is toward increasing walkability and reducing urban blight in the form of asphalt lots. Many progressive cities are moving that way after realizing the negative effects of asphalt lots on their cities and downtowns. 

3) The Burnham house is in very good condition. The Hurst family purchased and converted the Burnham into apartment units in the 1940s. The interior was carefully divided by walls but retained much of the interior intact, including unique and irreplaceable architectural details, the grand staircase of black walnut, hidden panels, inlaid hardwood floors, original built-ins including hidden panels, multiple unique fireplaces, and period details intact. (See exterior and interior details from recent photos at http://SaveBurnham.weebly.com The Hursts took very good care of the Burnham.  It is a work of art and quality craftsmanship to be treasured, restored, and utilized, not destroyed. The Burnham house was fully occupied and operating at a profit until a few months ago in 2017 when the School Board bought it and all residents were evicted.  

4) Any building built by the famous architects Burnham and Root is historic and nationally important. Virtually every one of Burnham's 300 or so buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places. Burnham's work transformed modern architecture and his buildings are revered around the country. Daniel Burnham's history is fascinating: he believed that architects have a professional responsibility toward the larger community of which they are a part. Burnham created the skyscraper, envisioning heights his peers had not imagined possible. His motto “Make no little plans” and his extraordinary vision and leadership are an inspiration for our children. Parking lots are not.

Only 10 Burnham and Root residences exist in the world, one of which is here in Champaign. ​The Burnham House is recognized on the Heitzman Survey of notable historic buildings in Champaign-Urbana. According to the Heitzman Survey, the 300-1200 blocks of West Church Street contain the most historic homes and buildings in all of Champaign and Urbana. The city of Champaign has been remiss in following its own ordinance to inventory the historic properties as required under Federal law as a Certified Local Government (CLG). Why did Champaign, whose duty it is under national law and their own historic preservation ordinance to inventory properties for historic importance, fail to do so for the Burnham House? Why, when Landmarks Illinois informed the School Board in April 2016 about the historic nature of the houses and neighborhood, did the School Board still pursue their purchase and destruction?

5) The Champaign Burnhams were committed public servants and generous benefactors to all citizens in the community.  The Burnham House was built by working people with great talent who took pride in their craft. The Burnham House has housed thousands of people over the last 134 years, principally many lower income families, couples, students, artists, and musicians.  It has served as a pleasant place to live, close to downtown, schools and work for many individuals who were not in a position to own their own homes. All residents were evicted when the school board purchased the Burnham in 2017. The School Board's plans are to reduce the Burnham to asphalt in order for a few students to park their cars, rather than housing individuals and families and maintaining the residential feel of the neighborhood as well as contributing to the tax base.  It is a view from the great heights of privilege that the fabric of the school’s neighborhood are incidental. And eventually it may backfire.

6) Demolishing the Burnham will cost taxpayers about $1 million dollars (and several million more when demolition of the Captain Bailey house, Burnham associated properties, and the Philippe House/YMCA across the street are included).  Added to the cost to the community are landfill costs, road wear costs for transporting demolition materials from the site and bringing new materials to the site, and costs in terms of traffic jams and detours while demolition is underway. Then add in costs to build the parking lot. This is in addition to the millions already spent (and overspent) on purchasing these buildings. The School Board purchased the Burnham House and the three other buildings for $1.7 million (at $700,000 more than market value). After spending so much, why is the only use that the School Board has for that property a parking lot?  Until the school board bought it, the Burnham paid property taxes to the city of Champaign over the years. The city loses any and all property taxes from the Burnham in its new role as a parking lot.

7) Alternative solutions exist other than the destruction of one of the most historic and notable houses in Champaign Urbana.  For example:

a) Additional parking can be located elsewhere and at less expense, including on lots the School Board already owns, or it can be built vertically (e.g. a parking garage) instead of increasing sprawl, or omitted altogether.  The U of I put the entire undergrad library underground so it would not impact the historic Morrow Plot.

b) Central High School could use Burnham to teach students real-life skills including carpentry, restoration, history, architecture, woodworking, plumbing, planning, design, financing, operations, maintenance, etc.  These are useful skills for our students, many of whom will have homes of their own someday and the confidence to deal with these issues as well as having pride in their work and community. These skills will not be susceptible to outsourcing. The National Park Service has an entire program on how to teach preservation trades at the high school level.  Champaign could be a model. A preservation program using this resource could be the catalyst for education of youth in the region.​http://ptn.org/sites/default/files/docs/mhpn_ncppt_report.pdf

c)  Other alternatives for repurposing the Burnham for Central HS include use as administrative offices, college counseling, a library, a student union, a tutoring and counseling center, history department, art department, music, or AmeriCorps teacher housing or a home for Champaign's Youth Assessment Center, a program to re-direct kids away from the criminal justice system that just lost their location because the School Board needed their office space back. These at-risk kids could work with mentors and help to restore the Burnham House, learn marketable skills, and gain pride in their efforts - a very positive project for our community.

d) If the School Board has no interest in preserving and repurposing the Burnham, it could be sold to an individual/ group or non-profit to preserve.  NO taxpayer funds would be used to preserve it. The Burnham has not been listed on the open market, but there is interest. The Burnham was valued at $389,618 by the county assessor.  The School Board could use proceeds from the sale to offset purchase of additional parking while the Burnham and its very historic neighborhood could be preserved.  Repurposing ideas include: Office Suites, a permanent home for OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Art Gallery, Art Studios, Fine Restaurant and Cafe, Single Family Home, Apartments, Condos, Senior Living, or Historic Home Tours or a Community Center. The building remains historic even if it is not the original use. Repurposing the Burnham for classrooms, training in restoration, offices, etc. are far better options than destroying this historic jewel of our community and country.  

8)  The school board is rushing ahead to contract for demolition. Yet many aspects about the School Board’s plan for Central HS are unclear and of concern to the public.

For example:

a) What is the drainage plan for the lots? As it stands, water from the northwest corner of the school flows north into neighbors lots and homes.  To date, answers received have been contradictory and unsafe (a retention pond?

b).The current plans put a soccer and softball field on the narrow block between W Church and Hill St in a dense neighborhood. These fields do not adequately fit that space. With sidelines closely paralleling busy W. Church and Hill, balls will be in the streets with kids running after them or with netting surrounding the whole city block.  What are the specific plans for the lighting of the fields? How are neighbors going to be protected from loud noise and bright lights from the fields? What are the specifics plans for containing balls on a very visible and busy corridor for the city? Will the athletic fields be accessible to all?

c) Lynn Street is to be closed between Hill and Church, leaving a very long stretch of central Champaign with no north-south access. Staff and students will be crossing Church Street in high numbers. How are kids safely crossing Church St, one of the main routes through the city? What route will students walk to/from Spalding? With Lynn St removed, there will be no direct route. 

d) Several Central HS sports are planned to be located at Spalding Park. Existing basketball courts will be removed to make space. Locating these HS fields at Spalding come at a cost to North Champaign's very few, accessible green spaces. Other neighborhoods, e.g. around South Side School rejected plans because of resistance to the noise, lights, and cars. It’s unclear if the Spalding neighborhood was consulted and is in favor of locating Central’s fields there. Will these facilities be open to the neighborhood?

e) Central HS’s athletic fields still remain scattered around town at Spalding, South Side, and downtown which is not much improvement from before.

Alternatively, the School Board could keep Central HS central and locate the Maroons' athletics together in one sports complex, such as at the fields already purchased by the School Board which have already cost taxpayers millions and have restrictions that hinder resale. Many schools have their athletic complexes elsewhere and athletes are bussed, as is already the case for Central football athletes. The Maroons could have a unified sports complex (football, soccer, softball, baseball, golf, track, tennis, cross country, lockers,  concessions, etc) with room for parking, expansion, kids and balls off busy streets, and parents aware of where their kids are. In addition, the historic neighborhood could remain intact - a win-win for Champaign.

Despite these many concerns, including many aspects still unclear to the community and many unanswered questions, the School Board plans to start demolition of these historic properties imminently. 

1) We ask for a moratorium on the School Board's imminent plans to demolish the very historic Burnham House. Once it is gone, it is forever.  

2) We ask that the Board extend the period of public review of the expansion plans and allow for more accessible review, as many aspects of this plan are still not clear to the community and the consequences of these plans are extensive. Public funds being allocated to destroy public property, including the Burnham and 10 period buildings in the immediate downtown neighborhood, should be subject to explicit and sufficient public review. Two hours of public review of two big expansion projects on the same night is not adequate with so much at stake.  Two weeks to vote on this when so much remains unclear and unanswered is insufficient.  Please make an online interactive portal accessible so that any questions regarding the plans can be answered, clarified, and viewable by all. 

 3) We ask that the city apply its planning process to all aspects of the School Board construction program.

4) We ask that the Board collaborate in good faith with the community to find a solution to permit Central HS expansion and the Burnham to coexist and thrive. 

We hope that the School Board will recognize the benefits of historic preservation and that its potential benefits to students and the community are far greater than providing some additional parking. With some creative thinking, our community and country’s historic legacy and a state of the art high school can go hand in hand.

Please sign the petition to save the historic Burnham house from demolition. Please contact the Champaign School Board Chris Kloeppel, Amy Armstrong, Kathy Shannon, Kathy Richards, Gianina Baker, Heather Vasquez at u4boe@u4sd.org, Mayor Deb Feinen (Deb.Feinen@champaignil.gov) and city manager Dorothy David (citymanagersoffice@champaignil.gov) and urge them to preserve the Burnham. Or email directly: kloeppch@u4sd.org; armstram@u4sd.org; shannoka@u4sd.org; richarka@u4sd.org; bakerga@u4sd.org; vazquehe@u4sd.org, Deb.Feinen@champaignil.gov, citymanagersoffice@champaignil.gov.

Very many are not aware of the very historic and immense architectural legacy that we are very fortunate to have in our community. There are very viable, feasible alternatives that promote Central HS expansion and do not involve demolition of the very Historic Burnham. We ask that the historic Burnham House be preserved for the education and enjoyment of our children, our community, and beyond. The School Board and city leaders could come out as heroes in this debacle.

Urgent Note: If you are interested to purchase the Burnham House, please contact SaveBurnham@gmail.com as soon as possible. The county assessor has assessed it at $390K.

The School Board received a fair market value offer (~$390K) from the newly formed non-profit "Friends of Burnham Mansion". 1/22 the School Board rejected the offer.  



For more information and photos of the Burnham House and its architectural legacy, see http://SaveBurnham.weebly.com and saveburnhammansionchampaign on Facebook. Follow on twitter @savetheburnham. Please share widely! 


Petition Closed

This petition had 13,659 supporters