With Central Campus shut down, Lockport students will relocate to former Lincoln-Way North

Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort is seen shortly before it opened. The school was built after a 2006 referendum passed to accommodate an expected influx of students that never came. Now, district leaders are considering shuttering one of Lincoln-Way's four academic buildings to deal with financial problems.

Lockport — Lockport School District 205 is going to have its freshmen attend school at the former Lincoln-Way North High School campus in Frankfort while the district continues building renovations at its Central campus.

The Lockport Township High School District 205 board held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to determine a plan going forward for Central Campus students after a third-floor classroom ceiling collapsed on Nov. 2 forced the district to close the building for classroom instruction.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the plan and Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride said the freshmen will “likely” be able to begin attending the alternate campus on Wednesday, Nov. 15. It could be their campus home for months.

Until that time, students will continue with online learning. Regular updates will continue to be given online throughout the week.

While McBride last week had initially dismissed the possibility of relocating students to the Lincoln-Way building last week as “not something we’re seriously exploring” he said the option reemerged over the weekend as it became clear that repairs at Central are going to take longer than originally thought.

The board had announced on Friday that freshmen would continue an online learning plan through Nov. 8 while it evaluated the safety of the 114-year-old Central Campus building and evaluated alternative options should repairs be deemed necessary before students and staff could safely return to the school.

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

Students from Central Campus’ special education programs, Lockport Academy and CCC, have been attending in-person classes at the Lockport Township Building on Farrell Road in Lockport since Monday.

While the school stated it “made a return to in-person learning a priority,” the option to briefly extend online learning for freshmen students was considered along with the option to house all students temporarily at East Campus, and options to locate to another facility where the district’s 900 freshmen students could comfortably attend classes in-person.

District 205′s enrollment is more than 3,800 students.

“It’s obvious students are already getting fatigued with online learning,” said McBride, before revealing the new plan. “There are quite a few challenges with that for specific classes and we are not in a position to recommend it now that we know it will be longer than a week.”

District 205 Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride with board secretary Dr. Sandra Chimon Rogers, board member Zyan Navarra, and student board member Chelsea Osei at an emergency board meeting Nov. 7.

Similarly, the district considered and dismissed two different options for moving the 900 freshmen students to East Campus, including a hybrid schedule where freshman and upperclassmen would attend the school in-person on alternating days and be online on their off days, and a split schedule where half the students would attend from 6-11 a.m. and the other half would attend from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

It was determined the hybrid scheduled would pose a potential problem qualifying for state in-person attendance requirements — which the district is currently avoiding because 75 percent of the students are attending in-person at East — and the split schedule was deemed too disruptive for all the students’ schedules and for activities and extracurriculars.

As the staff’s focus began to shift to alternate locations, McBride said local churches, banquet halls, and park district facilities were examined, but none were viable.

“The locations we looked at in the community could only hold at most 300 to 400 students,” McBride explained. He also noted that the locations did not have the facilities to accommodate specialized classes, and other schools which might have the facilities, including Joliet Junior College and Lewis University, do not have those spaces available enough for a high school to use.

“The building is in beautiful condition and has every amenity, it just needs some support to get it revamped.”

—  Dr. Robert McBride, superintendent of Lockport School District 205

“None of the places we looked had the space for the needs of a high school,” McBride said.

After having initial conversations with the Lincoln Way District 210 administration, District 205 formulated a plan to use the vacant school building to house the freshmen and possibly the Lockport Academy students. CCC students will stay at the Township Building. While the campus is about 30 minutes away from LTHS, the district does not plan on disrupting students’ schedules.

As of now the district plans on retaining its current bus schedule, with students continuing to board their buses as usual. The buses will take all students to East where upperclassmen will disembark and freshmen will stay on board and continue on to Lincoln-Way North, which will start classes later than East.

The same schedule will then be done in reverse at the end of the day, with the Lincoln Way campus schedule ending slightly earlier and students being shuttled back to East to either disembark for extracurriculars or continue home with the upperclassmen.

Lockport Township High School East Campus.

Lincoln-Way’s schedule will result in a shortened freshman school day with most periods being truncated by five to 10 minutes. Details are being finalized as well as plans for students and teachers who travel during the day.

With the District 205 board approving the resolution allowing McBride and the district staff to move forward with plans to make the Lincoln Way Transition for students. Lincoln-Way District 210 is expected to pass a similar resolution on Thursday.

The districts will then work out an intergovernmental agreement establishing a rental contract and proceed with preparations to make the school ready for use. Both boards will approve the agreements retroactively.

Once the students are relocated to Lincoln-Way North, McBride said preliminary estimations suggests they will be there for three to four months.

“This is a very doable, very beneficial option to preserve the priorities of maintaining East’s schedule and returning to in-person learning,” McBride said. “The building is in beautiful condition and has every amenity, it just needs some support to get it revamped.”

Said revamps include getting internet fully restored to the building, cleaning, renting tables and chairs for classrooms, and creating a plan for food service since many kitchen appliances have been removed since the school’s closure.

District 205 is currently working on plans to address those issues, as well as plans to let Central teachers and staff back into the facility to retrieve their equipment and belongings.

The Lincoln-Way School District closed its North campus in 2016 after population numbers showed the campus was not needed.

District 205 has been working to come up with a solution for its freshmen and special education students since Thursday morning when math teachers on the third floor discovered the plaster ceiling of room 310 on the northwest corner of the building had come down over night.

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

The incident left the room in wreckage and could have caused injury had it been occupied at the time of the collapse, according architects who have been working with the district on the inspection.

Students and staff were evacuated from the third floor during first period, and everyone was sent home “out of an abundance of caution” shortly after 9 a.m.

Since Thursday, representatives from local fire departments, the Will County Regional Office of Education and the city of Lockport, have inspected the site and a team of forensic architects has been going through the school room by room to determine what other risks may exist. It is expected to take an additional two or three days to finish the entire evaluation.

The architects have reportedly been cutting in to plaster ceilings in the older sections of the building, including the 1928 section where room 310 is located, to determine if other classrooms are compromised.

The district described this process as “slow and methodical” in its Monday night update and pledged not to return students to the school “until we have a full understanding of the integrity of all classrooms.”

Earlier, McBride had announced the team had determined the issue was not a building-wide structural issue by a sub-structure issue caused by specific construction methods used in portions of the building and the age of the structure.

At the Tuesday night meeting, it was announced that several areas of the building pose a critical risk and need to be renovated immediately.

The ceiling collapse and temporary closure of Central Campus comes as the district is considering options for renovating the school, a plan which was developed after six ballot measures asking the community for funding for a new campus were voted down over the last 20 years.

The renovation measure will still require voter approval of new debt, and the board is expected to approve a motion to go to referendum at its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 20.