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Residents sue District 155 over bleacher expansion

CRYSTAL LAKE – A pair of Crystal Lake residents, as well as McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi, sued Crystal Lake High School District 155 on Monday, putting a temporary stop to bleacher expansion at Crystal Lake South High School.

Johnnie Thomas, superintendent of District 155, told more than 20 people in attendance for a community meeting Monday night on the contentious bleacher expansion project that the district no longer could discuss the project after receiving a lawsuit at roughly 5 p.m. Monday that came on the heels of a stop-work order.

The nine-page complaint asks for an injunction, claiming that the district failed to go through the process to obtain city permits for variations that would greatly change the area by increasing seating capacity to about 3,800, creating potential flood hazards and requiring potentially more than 1,200 parking spaces.

Lawyer Michael Burney, a 2002 Prairie Ridge High School graduate, said the district is not above city ordinances and found it peculiar that officials bypassed the process after obtaining permits through the city for the past 25 years when doing large projects.

"We are asking that any structure put in place is made in compliance with city's code of ordinances," Burney said. "For the past 25 years, that has been the course of conduct. It's never been a question."

Bianchi, who owns property that he rents out on Amberwood Drive, said the decision to file a lawsuit was for safety issues that were being ignored by not getting city approval. Bianchi is one of three plantiffs along with his wife and Amberwood Drive resident Jeff Gurba – husband of Kim Maselbas, who has been vocal about the effect the expansion will have on potential flooding and property values.

Bianchi added that he was acting only as a concerned resident and not as state's attorney. He said city officials, who also threatened to sue the district, supported the cause and were thankful to spare taxpayers a dual burden of funding school and city legal interests.

"We are all interested in keeping Crystal Lake a safe and peaceful place to raise a family," Bianchi said.

Leslie Schermerhorn, regional superintendent of schools for McHenry County, defended the school district last week, saying officials received all the necessary permits from her office to begin work. She noted that city officials had not contacted her office for information about the project.

Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley contends that zoning variations are needed because the project is more than 600 square feet, the structure is too close to property lines, and it is too tall after expanding from 42 feet to 47 feet, 10 inches.

Jeff Puma, spokesman for the district, said officials could not comment on the lawsuit, but alternative venues for Crystal Lake South home football games are being pursued.

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