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District 155: With rules followed, time to stop wasting taxpayer money

Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 8:53 a.m. CDT

Sixteen times in the past five years, District 155 has obtained building permits from the McHenry County Regional Office of Education for construction projects in Crystal Lake.

This is nothing new.

State law specifically provides the local ROE with responsibility for reviewing, issuing permits for, and inspecting school construction. The Illinois State Board of Education requirements are applied uniformly by our ROE and all public schools across the state.

That is not to say the city of Crystal Lake or any other municipality is prohibited from having input into local school construction matters. In fact, the same legal provisions that require the ROE to review, permit and inspect school construction also give local municipalities an opportunity to participate in the process – but they must request that opportunity from the ROE, and they cannot change the requirements that apply to schools.

During this year’s permitting process, the city of Crystal Lake chose not to participate.

Each year, District 155 hosts public meetings to discuss construction plans, publicly votes to approve projects, and submits permit applications to the ROE. During the past 14 years, the district completed at least 32 projects in Crystal Lake following the ROE permit process.

This summer, we completed Crystal Lake projects with five ROE permits and no direct city permits. Yet, only the bleacher project at Crystal Lake South received the city’s attention.

The city contends that District 155 is breaking from past practice to construct South’s bleachers, and it believes District 155 has completed only 26 construction projects in a quarter century – during a time when we saw Crystal Lake enrollment double.

It bases this on 26 city permits. What the city is not specifying is that most of these permits were for sewer and electric hookups or school signs – projects that involved the city’s utilities or right of way.

The 26 permits do not include actual building construction projects. For example, with community support, South was expanded in 2003. That project was completed with ROE permits, not city permits. The district has actual construction going on every summer. A challenge of maintaining school buildings is that work must take place in the short time when students are not in school. Our projects are important to our community, they are incredibly time sensitive, and they are done with permits from the ROE, not the city.

The district upgraded South’s bleachers to create a safer environment for students and the community. We host spectators of all ages for football games, track meets and graduations. Safety is our top priority, and was the single most important motivation for this project.

Year after year, fans line the fence because they cannot find bleacher seats – causing dangerous crowd control and safety issues. When a structural engineer’s audit found the press box to be unsafe and unusable, we elected to address the stadium’s many issues with one comprehensive project.

We replaced bleachers and a press box that were purchased “used” some 30 years ago, lacked structural integrity, were not ADA-compliant, did not utilize current safety features, and required additional seats to accommodate spectators. The district was excited about these improvements. We appreciated the Northwest Herald reporting May 2 about the bleacher project, our new science and special education classrooms, and other summer work.

We undertook this project according to the ROE process required by state law. However, once the city posted a formal “stop-work order,” and two neighbors filed a lawsuit to prevent students’ use of the stadium facilities, we instructed our counsel to take legal action so that the project could be completed before the start of school. The district felt it was important for students and the community to use South’s facilities for curricular and extracurricular activities.

District 155 values its relationship with Crystal Lake and every other municipality we serve. We represent many of the same taxpayers, and we cannot run the schools or educate our students without community support. We believe it is the responsibility of District 155 and the city to amicably resolve this dispute, but not at the expense of compromising our schools. It is time to work out a plan to move forward and stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars in court.

• Ted Wagner is School District 155 board president.

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