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City Council: Discussion of LTHS construction plans tabled

Recent Lockport City Council action delayed plans for construction and expansion at Lockport Township High School East Campus.

City officials voted 3-2 to table the discussion of a special use permit for the proposed LTHS building expansion at the Jan. 4 Committee of the Whole Meeting. Second Ward Alderman JR Gillogly and Fourth Ward Alderman Jim Petrakos were the dissenting votes. First Ward Alderman Kris Capadona, Third Ward Alderman Jason VanderMeer and Fourth Ward Alderman Robert Perretta were absent.

Third Ward Alderman Darren Deskin said he couldn’t support the city in granting the special use considering the lack of cooperation they had with the high school in regard to a sidewalk project a few months ago. Deskin made the motion to table the discussion until the next City Council meeting Jan. 18, because he would like a representative from the school district to be in attendance to speak about the sidewalk issue before moving forward with the current project.

New developments in school zoning law signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in August of 2016 gives the City of Lockport ability to apply and enforce its zoning regulations on schools. Officials will also be required to file a final development plan.

“I just think it’s disingenuous that we would go ahead and they would even expect us to go ahead and waive any fees or reduce any fees,” he said. “I’d like to have the superintendent and/or the school board president here, at the next Committee of the Whole meeting, to discuss why it’s in the city’s best interest to go ahead and waive any fees, reduce any fees with the lack of cooperation we had with the superintendent and the school board just a few months ago.”

The City of Lockport recently went to the Lockport Township High School D205 Board of Education to offer a solution to address resident complaints regarding the safety of children crossing streets at the south end of 13th Street closer to Garfield Avenue and Lincoln Street.

When Lockport officials extended an offer to the high school to pay for the sidewalks through their 50/50 program, they were met with a roadblock, City Administrator Ben Benson said.

“We thought it would be appropriate to offer that to the high school,” he said. “They deliberated it, but they decided that ultimately, it wasn’t… in their best interest—I’m paraphrasing here—to put school funding towards safety measures that they felt should be [paid for by the] municipality.”

Peter Pontarelli, LEED Green Associate for DLA Architects, spoke on behalf of the special use. He said he wants it to be clear that tabling the $9 million project isn’t ideal.

“This project is kind of a separate issue from the sidewalk, and it is time-sensitive in terms of the school year, getting construction started,” Pontarelli said.

Construction and expansion plans at Lockport Township High School East Campus would add 7,500 square feet for a multipurpose room and another 19,700 square feet for an 11 classroom addition.

The campus is currently zoned as R-1 single family residential, which makes it a special use in accordance with the city’s zoning ordinance.

Council action to approve a special use permit will give the State 90 days to consider the measure, at which time the timeline for the Lockport high school project would be further cemented.

Pontarelli said for the record, parties involved in the project have been working to be good neighbors.

“We have had a precedence of waiving building permits for other governing bodies in the community,” he said. “We did it for the Lockport Township Park District, we’ve done it for the Lockport Township facility on Farrell Road.”

Lockport Township High School Director of Facilities Bill Thompson said, while he won’t speak for others and doesn’t know all the details regarding the sidewalk issue, the high school has been a cooperative neighbor with the city.

“I am aware of a few of the projects that we just did with the city over the last five years,” he said. “We have cooperated, we have donated money, or split the costs for the parking on Garfield Avenue, for the bike path that’s going to be on Farrell Road, for the flooding that’s in the subdivision by the golf course. All three of those times we split costs with the city.”

But that’s not the whole story, Deskin said.

“However, the precedence has always been with the other governing bodies that they will cooperate with us,” he said. “In this instance a few months ago, it was and I quote from the highest level, ‘it wasn’t in their best interest to go ahead and contribute anything financial to a sidewalk.’ So the question is, is it in the city’s best interest to go ahead and grant the waiver of any fees to the high school when we can go ahead and use those exact same fees to go into our Capital Improvement Fund to go ahead and maybe fix a few sidewalks around town?”

Second Ward Alderman Brian Smith said he would support the council in tabling the matter to allow time for further discussion with Lockport Township High School officials.

“I wouldn’t mind if there are some questions here in regards to what’s going on, nothing better than to come forward and explain,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying, just to clear things up.”

Lockport Township High School is required to pay the municipality for the costs of review fees. No other fees are conveyed to them by the city.

Petrakos said he understands Deskin’s concern to a point, but he would beg to differ.

“We do not have any jurisdiction over building permits, materials or anything inside the actual building, but we are responsible for reviewing zoning,” he said.

The Lockport City Council will place the matter up for vote at its Jan. 18 meeting.

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