What’s next for Lockport’s Central Campus with building shut down

Plans for referendum for renovation work

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

Lockport Township High School District 205 had to shut down its Central Campus Thursday morning after a ceiling collapsed in a classroom and the building will remain closed for classroom instruction for the foreseeable future.

Families were informed Thursday afternoon that Central Campus students on Friday will be doing remote learning “following the normal Central Campus bell schedule from 7:45 to 2:45 and meeting with their teachers on Google Meet.”

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 District 205 board addressed some of the issues at a previously scheduled special meeting on Thursday night.

“For a year and half we have been talking about renovating Lockport Central Campus and that was front and center today when you have a 114-year-old building and some of the things a structure like that needs if we are going to continue on there as a school,” said Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride at the outset of the meeting.

“We do have a situation – at least temporarily – where we cannot occupy that building,” he said. The buildings is closed with limited staff access, he said.

With arrangements made for Friday’s online learning set, the administration tomorrow “will pivot into looking into the next week” for what plans they need to make for students and faculty at Central Campus, McBride said.

But he did later add, “We cannot go on forever with online learning.” One option is to have freshmen temporarily attend the East campus with sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Forensic architects will examine the cause of the ceiling’s collapse and check other classrooms.

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

Every room of the building will be examined, school officials said.

The district’s plans for upgrades and renovations to the building, located in downtown Lockport, are taking on greater urgency now in wake of Thursday’s events.

“We have to ask the question: Do we want that building to remain as a school? And if we do then obviously there are actions that need to be taken,” McBride said.

The board heard outlines of scenarios for building bond proposals that could be taken to the public next year.

What happened and when

According to a notice shared by the district’s administration to parents, a plaster ceiling came down in one 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.

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

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. 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.

District 205 issued a second statement at 12:45 p.m. 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.”

“We are also working with the Regional Office of Education to determine when we can reoccupy the building,” according to a release from the district. “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.

Some of the main concerns 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.

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.

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.

Judy Harvey contributed to this story