Crystal Lake South bleacher expansion can continue, but legal fight goes on

The view of the new Crystal Lake South High School's stadium bleachers from a home 
on Amberwood Drive in Crystal Lake.
The view of the new Crystal Lake South High School's stadium bleachers from a home on Amberwood Drive in Crystal Lake.

WOODSTOCK – Crystal Lake High School District 155 and the city of Crystal Lake agreed Friday to allow the completion of the bleacher renovation at Crystal Lake South High School, but a lengthy court battle still could await.

Justin Hansen, attorney for Crystal Lake, agreed to freeze the stop-work order on the bleacher renovations so students, athletes and school supporters could enjoy the facility throughout the year. But he said the city maintains that it has zoning authority over the school district and would continue the court battle.

"We're not willing to let students and athletes get caught in the middle of that," Hansen said of the dispute with the school district. "We won't file a complaint, which would have triggered the fines."

The school district stood to lose up to $1,000 a day for each day it was in violation of the stop-work order and city ordinances while the legal process played out. Because the city agreed not to file a complaint and to suspend the stop-work order, those fines will not accumulate.

The agreement came after judge Thomas Meyer expressed his desire for the two sides to come to a temporary understanding for the sake of the students, parents and athletes at Crystal Lake South High School while the larger question of city versus regional superintendent authority was decided in legal proceedings.

Attorneys from the city and district met for about an hour before submitting the agreed-upon motion to Meyer.

Robert Swain, attorney for District 155, said construction crews would start as soon as possible and the hope was to finish the bleachers by the start of school and the first home football game Aug. 30. The bleachers, which are about 95 percent complete, still need safety railings, walkways and some electrical work to the press box.

"Losing this last week hurt, but we're hopeful we can finish before the start of school," he said. "They are mobilizing as quickly as possible."

Jean Bianchi, one of three Crystal Lake residents suing District 155 over the bleacher project, said she was happy to know the students, parents and supporters would be able to use the facility but disappointed that the district continues to refuse to enter into the city zoning process.

Bianchi, along with her husband, Louis Bianchi – the state's attorney for McHenry County – and Amberwood Drive resident Jeff Gurba, claim the district violated city ordinances by constructing home bleachers too close to property lines, getting as close as 46 feet to the boundary. The structure is also taller than city code allows at 47 feet, 10 inches and could cause flooding issues and a decrease in property values.

With the district's refusal to go through the city zoning process, Jean Bianchi said she is concerned the legal battle could last far longer than a year and be a huge burden to taxpayers.

"We're happy football players, parents and students will have an uninterrupted season because we don't want them caught in the crossfire," Jean Bianchi said. "We're just concerned this is going to turn into a long, drawn-out process because it seems the district's attorneys are trying to change state law and make a name for themselves."

The next court date is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Friday in Courtroom 202 at the McHenry County Courthouse. Swain said he does not expect anything significant to happen and it would likely be the start of the lengthy string of appearances to set future dates.

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