District 155 Installs Massive New Bleachers at CL South Without City Approval

New 51-foot-tall bleachers aren't sitting well with neighbors of Crystal Lake South High School.

Katie Gurba stands in her backyard on Amberwood Drive in Crystal Lake. The new "home" bleachers of Crystal Lake South High School rise behind her.
Katie Gurba stands in her backyard on Amberwood Drive in Crystal Lake. The new "home" bleachers of Crystal Lake South High School rise behind her.

Crystal Lake resident Kim Maselbas said she and her family were surprised in June to awaken to the sounds of screeching metal and other construction noises.

A look out their back window at 1143 Amberwood Drive, and they noticed some type of work going on at the school bleachers furthest from their home. Their house and several others adjoin the Crystal Lake South property line near Ken Bruhn Field at 1200 S. McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake.

Maselbas went onto the Crystal Lake South High School website, and then the Community High School District 155 website to see if she could determine what the fuss was all about.

"I couldn't find any information," she said. "I have two daughters who attend South and they didn't know anything. No one told us anything."

Turns out the residents weren't the only ones in the dark.

The city of Crystal Lake hadn't heard of plans to install new 51-foot-tall bleachers that will seat 3,800 spectators (according to Maselbas) either. 

In fact, a project that size and that tall requires a zoning variance, said Michelle Rentzsch, director of planning and economic development for Crystal Lake.

"(District 155) does not have zoning approval," Rentzsch said. "They don't have a storm water permit either. They need a zoning variation for that height and that setback. The city has asked them to stop working, and they have not."

Rentzsch said the new bleachers - which will serve as the Gators' Home viewing area and were constructed where the "Away" stands were located - now stand 41 feet from the neighbors' property lines instead of 50 feet. The city issued the stop work order on Thursday, Aug. 1.

(Correction: the original story stated the stands were positioned 5 feet from the property line. City officials said the District 155 plans presented to them were improperly scaled. City staff conducted a field review on Thursday and determined the stands are 41 feet from the property line - still not the necessary distance, they said.).

However, construction workers continued to labor on the project on Wednesday. In fact, Maselbas said construction has started as early as 6:30 and 7 a.m. and workers have been on the project on weekends throughout the summer, which has created another problem.

"They need a permit to work on the weekends, but it's kind of a problem since they don't have a permit for the job to begin with," said Maselbas, who is concerned the towering steel structure will greatly depreciate the value of her home.

"We have lived here 14 years, and we never minded being next to the school. We never minded being next to the noise," she said. "But now, it's not just the width of the new bleachers, but the height. And there's going to be a house on top of it (the press box)."

Maselbas said she and her neighbors never received any notification from Community High School District 155 about the project. A group of the homeowners attended the District 155 School Board meeting this past Monday to find out more about the bleachers. 

"They said they don't have to operate under the city's governance," Maselbas said. "They said they are governed by the State Board of Education."

Maselbas said on Wednesday she received a personal invitation from District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas to attend a meeting on Monday, Aug. 12, to further discuss the new structure.  

She heard the new "Home" bleachers were installed on the other side of Ken Bruhn Field - closer to her home - because of the sun.

"I heard that when people sat on the (original) home side, the sun was in their eyes during games," she said. "But we're concerned about the spectators hanging over the sides of the bleachers, the safety and the noise."

She also questions why a high school district with four schools in a struggling economy would spend so much money on bleachers.

"We question why they would even need seating for 3,800 people to begin with," she said. "The school does not even have enough parking spaces for that many people. So, are people going to be parking on our streets now?"

Attempts to reach District 155 were unsuccessful.
Bryan Hartsgrove August 07, 2013 at 10:29 PM
So they get decent bleachers for the football team and people are angry? I would think that the mascot being a gator and the school being across the street from a sewage treatment plant would cause more of a stir than bleachers. The swamp jokes must be unending from rival schools.
Kim G. August 08, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Nobody is saying the bleachers weren't needed. It's the 51 foot tall bleachers we are concerned with & the fact that they are building without permits or zoning approval. That is a hazard and a lawsuit waiting to happen to the district.
rock lovr August 08, 2013 at 08:52 AM
I would have to agree with the previous poster - you knew when you purchased your house. What you also must know is that football is the number one money-making sport for a school and that is why the bigger bleachers. It doesn't matter about the parking since many people come with a carload of kids - it's a family night out. Probably a lot of walkers too. If one buys a house by electrical lines can one be surprised when com ed installs even taller and larger lines? Besides your house lost its value years ago the day after you moved in since its a rare person who doesn't mind being next to a school - you traded for non-noisy neighbors for 8 months of the year and sports for 4 months.
Stephanie Price (Editor) August 08, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Thanks for your comments - a lot of good points made. However, this is the type of discussion that normally occurs when a petitioner presents plans to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.... and then the City Council. This is a city where you need a permit to have a garage sale or build a small deck. It's a bit shocking the school district PURCHASED these bleachers without presenting the plans to the city and getting approval. If the city makes them remove the bleachers then it's total waste of $$ for the school district - and public.
Heather A August 08, 2013 at 12:20 PM
The City of Crystal Lake does it's due diligence to monitor homeowners with respect to installation of windows, doors, siding, roofs, installation of shed, pouring concrete pads... the list goes on and on and on (ad nauseam). How South High School was able to get as far as they have without receiving an impromptu visit from a city inspector is the most fascinating issue within this story and warrants real investigation.
Kathleen Scott August 08, 2013 at 02:32 PM
What city "asks" unauthorized, non-permitted construction to stop? If I were building an addition to my home without a permit, the city would issue a non-negotiable stop work order and you better believe that if construction continued, the workers would be met with a police officer enforcing the order.
LITH Resident August 13, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Lets assume that the correct paperwork and permits were asked for and received. Why does the neighbor(s) have to be told anything about what was going on and why does anything need to be posted on the high school or district web sites. Seems to me the city was a bit negligent in getting out to check the work being done. God knows if it was an addition to someones backyard deck they would have had their noses into that a lot quicker than a project of this size. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds when the facts start coming to light.


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