Construction of high-rise Bankier Apartments begins on Green Street

Gameday Spirit is gone from the corner of Sixth and Green, but not for long.

The school spirit shop was demolished this week for a new Bankier Apartments  high-rise apartment building. But the popular store will be back in its familiar spot after the building is completed.

Margie Colter, property manager at Bankier Apartments, said Gameday has leased the entire ground level commercial space in the new building and plans to move back sometime in 2014.

Colter said the building will be ready for leasing by August 2014. Above Gameday will be three levels of parking, and the rest of the 14 stories will be dedicated to student housing. 

One floor will be a student lounge and media center, and the rest of the floors will have five deluxe two-bedroom apartments on each floor.

Jim Lopez, vice president of construction company Broeren Russo, said the project is also LEED certified. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED is a program that provides third-party verification of green buildings.” This means the building will be approved based on its conservation of energy, water and other resources.

Bankier’s high-rise is one of four new high-rises planned for construction on campus in the near future. A high-rise is defined as a building that rises at least 75 feet above the first level of fire department access, according to the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal. 

A high-rise of 12-14 stories will be constructed on the property that is now known as Lot J, next to Legends. Another will be built on the cleared lot next to 309 East Green, but Fire Chief Doug Forsman said the project is on hold for the moment. Yet another high-rise, this time totaling 24 stories, will be built at 308-312 East Green, where IHOP and Campus Liquor currently stand.

Forsman discussed the resources needed by the fire department to handle emergency situations in high-rise buildings. He said the most important resource is manpower.

“When you have a haul of hose connections, air packs, forcible entry equipment, etc., you have to take all of that up there and it just takes a huge amount of people,” Forsman said. “They’re very fit guys and gals, but still.” He also said the firefighters practice high-rise drills on apartment buildings when students are gone for breaks, so they are without questions when a real emergency situation does happen. 

The reason high-rise fires don’t call for a lot of additional equipment is because high-rises are required to be equipped with sprinkler systems and stand pipes, which are essentially built-in hose lines, Forsman said.

Usually, the fire department is required to have 15 people on the scene of any fire within eight minutes, but with high-rises, 21 people must be on the scene because of the amount of manpower needed to carry equipment.

With the construction of several new high-rises in the area and sizable fringe growth in Champaign, the fire department needs its staff to be at full capacity. Property tax revenues have been low for the city in recent years, and the fire department made several cuts to deal with budget shortfalls. Still, even after the cuts, the department requested money to keep a station in west Champaign fully staffed.

The Champaign City Council recognized these needs a few weeks ago when it approved a supplemental budget requested by the fire department.

Bruce Knight, planning director for the city of Champaign, said the new high-rises aren’t necessarily causing the fire department to ask for more money, but the fringe growth in the area makes a bigger impact on the budget.

In fact, high-rises may help the fire department and other services in the city in terms of property tax revenue.

“With regard to property taxes coming in low, the good news is that these high-rises are large property tax generators without demanding high levels of service,” Knight said.

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