If you are like me and are not from there, your knowledge of Rantoul may be limited to, “Oh, that’s at the 250 exit off of I-57, right?” or “That’s that town that had the Chanute Air Force base; its closure really hurt Rantoul’s economy.” I had a rare opportunity to meet with some of the leaders of the Village of Rantoul recently, and what a great experience it was!
Things started off with a tour of the Chanute Air Museum. I had no idea that a place this interesting was so close to Champaign-Urbana. I highly recommend that you visit there; it’s a great rainy-day destination! We started off down the hall, past the silver timeline, outlining the important events in the base’s history. We passed through a “historic street” of vintage memorabilia, past some WWI-era inspired rooms (we got the “nutshell” tour, apparently) :), then entered into the large indoor hangar area with the historic planes.
What a place! From a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane, to some of the Air Force’s more modern high-speed aircraft, I was reminded of the human desire to achieve what seems impossible and how impressive these engineering feats were at times before the Internet and the modern world we live in today.
After our tour, we listened to several talks: by the mayor, by a local resident and real estate broker, and by a local appraiser. Here is approximately what they said:
Mayor: Rantoul is experiencing a “Renaissance”. He thinks that Rantoul will outpace every other local town in growth. Rantoul has had growth in manufacturing, research, hi-tech, etc.; all those industries are expanding and many of those company executives are having trouble finding suitable homes. He has a plan for new retail amenities, especially in the downtown area, where a “New downtown with proposed restaurants” is in the works. He acknowledged that the housing market suffered greatly as a result of Chanute closing. He feels that Rantoul has organically grown to where it’s a part of a regional/global community with diverse industries and praised Rantoul’s diverse population. The school system is quite unique. Rantoul is a great places to live, and great places to live are great places to learn.
I had hoped that there would be a Q&A session, as I was curious as to what Rantoul is doing to attract businesses, but there wasn’t one.
Real Estate Broker: 84% of houses have sold under $100k. Over 2,000 housing units became available after the base closed. For homes up to 1,200sf, the average sale price is $63,000. There hasn’t been much new construction. Presently, there are 76 active listings; 80% of those are under $100k. Some business have left and this has resulted in recent foreclosures. A bit over 2% of the homes are currently for sale. 50% of the properties are rental-owned (including apartment buildings). As far as demolition, the city tore down a 120-unit complex and 26 single-families, which had been bought by the village and demolished. A 30-unit mobile home park, another 10-unit building next year, and another 11-unit after that are in the works. Those vacant lots are starting to go on the market (42 currently for sale). Future plans include a retirement community on the West side of town and new addition to the Lincoln’s Challenge program. Rantoul has at least 10 parks, 3-4 ponds/lakes, a campground with 95 sites, and is home to the U of I Football training camp.
Appraiser: The Rantoul recession has lasted 20 years and he feels that the groundwork has been laid for a resurgence. The market in Rantoul today is a “balanced” one. Days-on-market are stable (around 95) and average prices are steady or slightly increasing. Indian Hills subdivision is similar to Cherry Hills in Champaign and he’s discovered that the home values in Rantoul are at least 15-30% less than most of these other neighborhoods and markets. He thinks that the worst is over.
Then, it was time for lunch! A school bus took us from the museum to the Rantoul Township High School, where one of the gyms had tables and chairs set up. Butcher Boy Burgers, a local eatery, catered this event. The pulled pork was fabulous; I highly recommend it! It was so good that I didn’t even think to take a photo. 🙂 Our lunch was followed by presentations from the superintendents of the high school and of the elementary schools, then with a tour of the school. Here is what the superintendents had to say:
High School Superintendent Scott Amerio: Their priority is to assist students in their ability to discover their life goals and provide staff with resources to assist them. At RTHS, this goals looks like this: Honors courses, AP courses, and dual-credit courses. There are also students who want to make a good living through being a contractor, doctor, plumber, etc. Our students don’t have to choose a track; i.e. have a student in AP, as well as a shop class. Or, a student may go to Parkland for automotive classes. Test scores are not where they want them to be. They won’t attempt to raise those test score goals if it is at the expense of taking their eyes off their goals for their students. Safety: 13 students were suspended for fighting in 2014 as a result of 6 or 7 incidents (since it takes at least 2 people to have a fight). Drugs: Acknowledged that there are drugs, so they’re very vigilant about following leads through social media, rumors, etc. Remember that it’s a small percentage of the students. Focus on the rest of the student body and staff, and community, who he’s proud of. He’s proud of the kids who do a lot of volunteering for their community and for their peers. Students made the podium he’s speaking at.
Another option is St. Malachi school, a pre-k through 8th grade school for parents who want a Catholic/Christian school. The superintendent chose that school for both of his kids because they also instill the same type of faith and values that he does at home. The high school’s current enrollment is about 750 students; the school can accommodate 1,200.
Elementary Schools Superintendent Michelle Ramage: There are 6 pre-K through 8th grade school buildings which service 1,650 students. High school and elementary schools are 2 separate districts because Rantoul Township High School is a feeder school from other surrounding communities. Achievement scores are not acceptable (70% of students are not achieving). They know that this is a problem. Almost 20% of students speak another language. They have a strong bi-lingual program and are moving to a dual-language program where all students learn a foreign language in elementary school. Their goal is a 16-17 class size for K-3rd grade. RCS is a “green district” through energy-efficiency buildings, A/C, etc. They are a work in progress, have a lot of new staff, and are proud of their leadership, who are looking forward to change.
My overall thoughts: I was very impressed with the services at the high school. I had about 2,000 students in my high school in Chicagoland and, short of having a swimming pool and in-house automotive classes, RTHS had all of the amenities of a much larger school.
Their horticulture program, as well as the other “hands-on” programs, along with the business class offerings, seem to offer a lot of options for both college- and tech school- bound students. I personally believe that it is not the job of a school to teach values, morals, ethics, and love for other people; those things are taught in the home. For things that a school is responsible for, Rantoul seems to really be on the ball with a top-notch facility and staff who want their students to succeed.
Let me know if you’d like to learn more about Rantoul! It really is a much less expensive place to live and it is very close to Champaign-Urbana. Or, for more information about Rantoul from their website, visit: http://www.village.rantoul.il.us/