Lockport’s Central campus closes from ceiling collapse, school board to meet

Lockport Township High School District 205 Central campus in Lockport, Sept. 19, 2023.  The campus serves as a freshmen center.

Lockport — Lockport Township High School District 205 had to evacuate its Central Campus on Thursday morning after a ceiling collapsed in a classroom.

Families were informed in the afternoon that Central Campus students on Friday will “be following the normal Central Campus bell schedule from 7:45 [a.m.] to 2:45 [p.m.] and meeting with their teachers on Google Meet.”

Links will be provided to students on Google Classroom. East Campus students who travel to Central Campus will meet for their classes in the Maroon room and take part virtually as well.

It is unclear how long this arrangement will continue or when Central Campus, which serves as the district’s freshman center and houses some special education programs, will be deemed safe for students and staff.

The school board was set to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at LTHS East Campus, 1333 E. Seventh St., for a special meeting where the issue is likely to be addressed. Options for the Central Campus renovation already were slated to be discussed at the meeting, although they will likely take on more prominence in light of the morning’s incident.

Lockport Township High School District 205 Central campus in Lockport, Sept. 19, 2023.  The campus serves as a freshmen center.

What happened and when

According to a notice shared by the district’s administration to parents, a plaster ceiling came down in a third-floor classroom overnight and was discovered early Thursday. The classroom was empty at the time of the collapse.

The statement informed parents that “out of an abundance of caution” students would be dismissed and regular bus routes would run to take the students home.

Only students who attend Central Campus were impacted by the early dismissal. East Campus students – sophomores, juniors and seniors – continued their day as scheduled.

The school said the administration is working with the Lockport Township Fire Department, the Lockport City Engineer’s office and the Lockport Police Department for “further assessment” of the damage.

The notice of the collapsed ceiling was originally posted about 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Classes in the building begin at 7:45 a.m.

Alicia Doroniuk, a parent of a Lockport Central Campus student, said her son was told to evacuate the third floor by Lockport Police shortly after being unable to enter the impacted classroom for first period. Doroniuk said students were told to remain in the cafeteria for about an hour before the school made the announcement that they would be sent home.

Third-story classroom in Lockport Township High School Central Campus after the plaster ceiling collapsed.

District 205 issued a second statement at 12:45 p.m. Thursday stating that the decision to send students home was reached “after an initial assessment of the situation with Homer Township and Lockport Township Fire Departments and the City of Lockport Building Inspector.”

Representatives from DLA Architects and forensic engineers have joined fire department officials and the building inspector on sight to “assess the total structure of every classroom and space in Lockport Central Campus,” according to a release from the district.

“We are also working with the Regional Office of Education to determine when we can reoccupy the building,” according to the release. “We will not do so until we are assured that every space is safe for students and staff. We will update our community on plans moving forward as soon as we have more information. As always, the safety and well-being of our students and staff is our top priority.”

The Lockport Township Fire Department has asked all questions be directed to the school.

Building renovations plan

The campus, located at 1222 S. Jefferson St, in downtown Lockport, is 114 years old and has not had a significant structural change since 1953. Over the past several months. the School District 205 had been giving tours to residents to showcase renovations and upgrades the building needs.

At a meeting in September, the District 205 board heard a presentation from DLA Architects discussing options the district has to renovate the building for modern functionality while still preserving its historic architecture.

Lockport School District 205 Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride guides a tour through the Lockport Township High School's Central Campus pool area in September 2023.  The public tour was held prior to a school board meeting to show what renovations and improvements are needed at the 114-year-old building.

Some of the main concerns Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride said needed to be addressed included major roofing repairs and HVAC improvements, as well as work to make the building fully ADA compliant.

At the time of the meeting DLA Architects suggested that simply addressing the functional issues of the building and bringing it up to code with ADA compliance and fire safety measures could cost $40 to $50 million.

The only elevator at Lockport Township High School District's Central Campus in September 2023. The campus is 114-years-old and needs upgrades to be more ADA compliant.

A more thorough overhaul of the facility, including completely renovating all the classrooms and replacing the rarely used auditorium with a modern, multi-purpose cafeteria and new library, would cost the district up to $115 million, an expense which would require a building bond referendum.

At the time of the meeting, it was anticipated that construction would begin in summer 2025, although new issues created by the ceiling collapse could change the school’s renovation timetable.