Lincoln-Way North opens its doors for Lockport Central freshmen

Lockport students line up outside on the first day of classes at the former Lincoln-Way North High School while the Central campus undergoes repairs on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Frankfort.

Lockport — Two weeks after an overnight ceiling collapse in one of Lockport Township High School’s Central Campus classrooms caused students to be evacuated and transition into online learning, students are back in the classroom, just not in the same building.

On Wednesday, about 900 District 205 freshmen and Lockport Academy students began school in their new temporary home of Lincoln-Way North, in Frankfort, which was shuttered by Lincoln-Way District 210 in 2016 after only eight years of use.

District 205 reached an agreement with District 210 days after the ceiling collapse to rent the large, mostly unused building for at least three months so the students could continue in-person learning while repairs are made to the ceilings at the 114-year-old Central Campus building.

“We’ve kept a maintenance presence in the (North campus) building since it was closed,” said District 210 Superintendent Scott Tingley. “We always said we could have it ready for school in three weeks, we didn’t expect we could get it together in one, but given the circumstances, it’s gone very well.”

Lockport students start arriving to the former Lincoln-Way North High School while the Central campus undergoes repairs on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Frankfort.

Students arriving on the District 205’s specially routed shuttle buses, were greeted by a “Welcome Porters” sign and teachers clad in the freshmen class color, green, which the district said was meant to “create a visually unified atmosphere and foster a sense of community” as they made the adjustment to the new facility and schedule.

“Lincoln-Way has been nothing short of amazing. They have been so great and so helpful welcoming us in our time of need. We can’t thank them enough.”

—   Dr. Kerri Green, principal at Lockport Township Central Campus

Staff and teachers lined up in the main hallway from the auditorium to the gym to record the moment as they welcomed in students (video courtesy of LTHS District 205) for a morning assembly before the students began their truncated schedule.

In order to keep scheduling disruptions to a minimum for district families and allow students to participate in extra-curricular activities the school day has been shortened at Lincoln-Way North. Students arrive at 8 a.m. and depart at 2 p.m. so they can ride their normal buses to and from East and Central campuses and attended after-school activities at East.

“It was great to see our kids back again,” said Central Campus Principal Dr. Kerri Green. “There was a lot of high energy in the hallways today and they seemed excited to see each other again and explore the building.”

A sign welcomes Lockport students on the first day of classes at the former Lincoln-Way North High School while the Central campus undergoes repairs on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in Frankfort.

Green noted that the teachers and staff managed to clear out Central Campus and prepare the classrooms for the students in only 24 hours, including emptying student lockers and bagging the contents for students to pick up during their lunch periods on Wednesday.

“We had an all-staff meeting at 7:30 Tuesday and told everyone we wanted to be out of the building by 9,” Green said. “The teachers boxed everything up and our custodial staff has been moving it over to Lincoln-Way for them.”

While the Lincoln-Way North building itself has been kept in functional condition by District 210, many of the furnishings had been moved out. Lockport staff spent much of the last week labelling and moving equipment and even furniture over to the Lincoln-Way building with rented trucks.

“I was over there this morning and there were a lot of smiling student faces in the halls. It’s still a learning curve, but I think it will get a little bit easier each day.”

—   Scott Tingley, superintendent at Lincoln-Way School District 210

Other local school districts also helped in the effort to re-furnish the building with Plainfield School District 202 and East Aurora School District 131 all contributing retired tech equipment, including projectors and speakers, to Lockport for use in the North campus.

Members of the district foundation and the Student Leadership Group also volunteered their time to get the temporary building ready for use on Tuesday. Students helped teachers unload their cars and decorate classrooms, while the LTHS Foundation board members festooned the halls and gym in Lockport Porters colors, garlands, and balloons.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but our maintenance team, the staff, and even the kids have been unbelievable,” Green said. “And Lincoln-Way has been nothing short of amazing. They have been so great and so helpful welcoming us in our time of need. We can’t thank them enough.”

“It’s pretty early, but everything seems to be going okay,” said Tingley. “I was over there this morning and there were a lot of smiling student faces in the halls. It’s still a learning curve, but I think it will get a little bit easier each day.”

Districts 205 and 210 have entered into an agreement to rent the facility for three months with an option to extend the students’ stay if necessary while Central Campus undergoes repairs.

While a set end date and total cost of the contract is unknown at this time, given the uncertainty of Central Campus’ maintenance situation, Tingley noted that LTHS will pay for the start-up and operating costs for Lincoln-Way North for the duration of the students’ stay, as well as a 15 percent administrative fee, which will go to District 210 as rent.

The exact use of the funds raised by renting the building has not yet been determined by the Lincoln-Way school board, but Tingley said that will be discussed in the coming months.

“Right now we’re just trying to be good neighbors and get things moving for them over there,” he said. “I do not envy their situation, but given the circumstances, this was a win-win for both districts.”

“I’m extremely proud of everyone involved in this process,” said Green. “The staff and families have been great getting behind this plan and embracing this change to make the best of a bad situation.”