Construction and site preparation work continue at Ames School in Riverside despite Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order that went into effect March 21.

Such work is considered an essential activity and is exempt from the stay-at-home edict, so on Monday workers were on site, preparing it for the brick two- tory addition that is scheduled to be completed by late August.

On March 20, construction officials, including those from Berglund Construction, which is managing all construction projects for Riverside Elementary School District 96, met with city of Chicago officials and representatives from labor unions via conference call after the governor issued his order.

“They reviewed the executive order the governor had sent and determined that they were excluded from the shutdown and the quarantine and they decided to work,” said Ramesh Nair, who is overseeing the District 96 construction projects.

Just two days earlier, Nair had told the District 96 school board, which met virtually with no board members physically present, that he expected there would be a pause in all construction work as part of the reaction to the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’ve never come across a situation like we face today, which is uncertainty about what happens tomorrow,” Nair said.

But when construction work was deemed essential, district officials switched gears and were happy that work was continuing, because any significant delay would have made it impossible to complete the addition by the target date of Aug. 20.

A delay would have also resulted in additional costs for the district in paying for the general contractor’s overhead.

On Monday, ComEd workers were relocating underground electric lines, while other workers were using bulldozers and backhoes to excavate the site to lay the foundation for the Ames addition.

On March 18, in anticipation of a construction shutdown, Nair cancelled the order of a crane that was supposed to be delivered to Central School late last week. The crane was needed to help build a masonry shaft for a new elevator in the Central School courtyard.

It costs $25,000 to $30,000 a month to rent a crane, and district officials did not want to be paying rent for a crane during a time when they thought that it could not be used.

With construction moving ahead as scheduled, the district is again trying to get the crane to Central, perhaps by the end of this week.

“I asked them to proceed as if there is no work stoppage, but you just don’t know,” Nair said, adding that he is still worried that a stop work order could come at any time.

“Once we erect it, the clock ticks, there will be a rental charge on it,” Nair said. “But without the crane we can’t do anything, either, so if the unions are saying they want to work … we can’t stop them from working. We have to let them go on until an order comes down from the powers that be saying stop.”

Riverside trustees approve Ames School variances

Riverside trustees on March 19 voted unanimously to approve expanding a special use permit and granting several zoning variances to allow Riverside District 96 to build an 8,000-square-foot, two-story brick addition onto Ames School, 86 Southcote Road.

 

The expansion of Ames School will also include reconfiguring the school's parking lot and creating an outdoor hard surface/soft surface playground on a Repton Road property the school district purchased in 2016.

 

Trustees complimented school district officials and their architect on working to try to best apply the spirit, if not letter, of the zoning code to accommodate the expansion. One issue in particular trustees brought up was the school district's efforts to mitigate the impact of adding impervious surface to the site.

 

That was accomplished by the use of permeable materials and the installation of underground storm water detention under the parking lot. Even though the school district added more pavement to the site and might have added more permeable materials to meet the code, trustees felt the school district's efforts were in good faith.

 

"In this case, the school is providing storm water detention that they are not required to provide," said Trustee Doug Pollock during the village board's March 19 meeting, which was held via conference call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "The fact they're meeting or exceeding the spirit of the code makes me comfortable with this."

 

Trustee Edward Hannon, who was a member of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission when that group tackled a similar issue involving St. Mary Parish, reiterated his call to perhaps amend the zoning code to resolve such issues.

 

President Ben Sells said that the Ames School situation is an argument for creating a planned unit development process in the zoning code. Such a process would allow village planners to work with developers – commercial or institutional – to create building plans that perhaps don't meet the strict language of the zoning code, but provide additional benefits.

 

"This would be a textbook example," Sells said. "And, it's going to happen again until we build flexibility into the code."

Bob Uphues