Lockport Central ceiling repairs timeline may lead to extended use of Lincoln-Way North

Freshmen may have extended stay at Lincoln-Way North

Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride Jr. speaks at the Lockport Board of Education meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Lockport.

Lockport — The Lockport Township High School District 205 board discussed the future plans for the Central Campus building repairs and renovations going forward at its final meeting of 2023.

One month since freshmen were relocated to Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort following a ceiling collapse in a third-floor classroom at Central, the board on Monday gave DLA Architects the go-ahead to assemble bid documents for the ceiling repair project.

DLA Architects has been working on plans to renovate the campus and developing plans to investigate and repair the ceiling with forensic architects WJE since early November,

While DLA was able to begin demolition of the ceilings deemed highly hazardous under emergency provisions, the larger scope of work to repair and replace all the ceilings WJE’s investigation labeled as high or medium-to-high risk will require a more thorough construction process, since it will exceed $50,000 in costs.

The board is hoping to have the bidding on the project begin at the end of December so a contract can be awarded at the Jan. 22 meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Robert McBride and DLA Principal and Director of Operations Eric Sickbert addressed questions about how long the process is taking Monday, and how the unexpected repairs are being addressed in conjunction with the previously planned renovation of the building.

The renovations would be financed through a $85 million building bond plan, which is being put before voters as a referendum on the March 19 ballot.

“Until this point we’ve been reactive, but now we’re trying to get ahead if the referendum passes,” Sickbert said. “You can’t just get into the attic and see some of the roof system in this building unless the ceilings are removed, so if we have the roof exposed, now’s a good time to examine it and determine the stability of that structure as well.”

DLA Architects Principal and Director of Operations Eric Sickbert goes over the risk assessment of the Central campus ceiling at the Lockport Board of Education meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Lockport.

“In many ways we’ve been forced into a construction project,” McBride said. “We want to do it right, not just do it quickly. But if we do it right, the time that students come back to Centrals creeps forward. This is a rare opportunity to be thorough. As long as we have the students in place at Lincoln-Way (North), I think we should take advantage of that and measure twice, cut once.”

Additionally, Sickbert explained that, with levels of the ceiling down, the team can take the opportunity to inspect parts of the building more thoroughly, and there may be some sections previously deemed low-risk that the board may want to consider replacing or repairing.

“We’re not expecting anything as extensive as demolishing the red and orange portions of the ceiling,” McBride said, referring to the color code for high and medium-to-high risk ceiling areas. “But as long as the ceiling is down, we think it makes sense to have a structural engineer come in and do some additional inspection and testing which could provoke additional repairs before we fully rebuild the ceiling.”

With the planning and inspection phases expanded, it is likely that the freshmen’s stay at Lincoln-Way North will be extended beyond the initially planned three months – provisions for that are included in the intergovernmental agreement with Lincoln-Way District 210.

McBride acknowledged that the move back to Central Campus would be just as stressful and hectic as the move to Lincoln-Way if it does happen mid-year. He suggested that if Central is not ready for a transition back by spring break, keeping the students at Lincoln-Way until the end of the year may be the best option.

The board also voiced interest for the first time in exploring the option of keeping freshmen at Lincoln-Way North longer term and moving ahead with the Central renovation in full if the referendum passes in order to save time and money.

“History will tell you it will be more expensive every year that construction goes on,” Sickbert said when asked how much could be saved by doing more of the construction at once.

As initially planned, the full renovation, if approved, would be done in phases over the summers and while students attended school at Central, which would take three to six years to complete.

“Every year we’re anticipating probably an average of 3 to 5% increase in costs,” said Sickbert, noting with inflation and the higher the cost of the project, the fewer priorities the district might be able to pay with the sum acquired in the referendum.

The board expressed interest in creating a more detailed breakdown of the cost savings by doing the project at once versus the costs of keeping students at Lincoln-Way for an additional year or two to examine at its next meeting,.

McBride said it would depend on District 210 agreeing to extend the lease.