District 155 board weighs Crystal Lake South High School bleachers options

CRYSTAL LAKE – Members of the Community High School District 155 Board on Wednesday favored a design concept for the controversial Crystal Lake South High School bleachers that would turn the east side of the stadium back into the home side.

Almost two weeks after initial negotiations with the neighbors who filed the bleachers lawsuit and the city of Crystal Lake started, district Director of Operations Jeff Daurer laid out scenarios the district believed to be within the parameters discussed during that Oct. 2 meeting.

At that point, the parties had until at least Oct. 29 to come up with an alternative to demolishing the bleachers.

“We also met with the city planner and the city engineer to discuss zoning processes and timelines,” Daurer said. “Then we developed preliminary options that physically fit with what the neighbors and the city want.”

There were three scenarios initially described, but it was a fourth and more impromptu option to which school board members gave an informal nod of approval during Wednesday’s operations committee meeting. Daurer, who called the fourth scenario a culmination of the first three, now has permission to go to architects and ask for that plan to be drawn up.

Superintendent Johnnie Thomas added the concept can then be brought to the Oct. 22 court date as an illustration of progress. First, it will require a full board vote, which is expected to take place Tuesday.

Under that scenario, the west side bleachers – the ones that prompted an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that school districts must adhere to local government zoning and stormwater regulations – immediately would be reduced to nine rows, or about 18 feet, 7 inches.

That was one of the parameters both Daurer and Thomas said was stressed during talks with the neighbors and city officials – nine rows high on the west.

The decided-upon scenario also involves taking down the press box, which is on the west side and “setting it aside” temporarily. Meanwhile, the east side bleachers would be torn down and rebuilt to hold about 2,000 seats after going through the city’s zoning process.

“If we completely level that [the east side] and build it back up from scratch, it gives our planning team some room to work in terms of building that side,” Thomas said.

The district, Daurer said, is targeting between 2,900 and 3,100 bleacher seats total after a “third party expert” was brought in to consult with the district. Bill Ganek, a former city planner for Crystal Lake, was enlisted to look at other districts in the region, talk to bleachers manufacturers and consider capacity levels to come up with that range, Daurer added.

He also mentioned when the district went through the bidding process in December for demolition, a stipulation was included that if at some point the demolition was halted, the district would get credit for the bleachers left up.

“Therefore, if we brought before you next week a board item that identified the removal of the bleachers with the caveat of stopping at nine [rows], we have that bid in place and can share that with the courts that we complied,” Daurer said.

The three options at this point dismissed by board members included one originally proposed by the neighboring property owners that simply knocked the west side bleachers down to nine rows and moved the press box, but didn’t get the district close to its targeted seat preference.

The second and third options also took the west side bleachers down to nine rows, but the second involved adding seats to the north and south ends of the west side bleachers. The third option added seats to the north and south ends of both the east and west sides. Having unused seats that would extend far toward the end zones was an issue for those options.

Jean Bianchi, one of the Crystal Lake residents who sued the district, was at Wednesday’s meeting and declined when asked if she had comment on the scenario being considered.

She said it wasn’t “exactly the plan we talked about, but it’s best if I don’t comment right now,” adding, “but I see you’re exploring some good options here.”

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