Doug Wilson

Quincy City Council faces tough vote on school site

Posted: Apr. 17, 2016 12:01 am
Quincy aldermen will be asked to make a tough but necessary decision about a school at 3201 Locust this week.

Some people will be upset no matter what decision is made. The bitter truth for these politicians is that they're going to be second-guessed and criticized. That's one of the costs of public service.

Glenn Bemis, general manager at Sisbro, a trucking company in the same area of Quincy as the proposed new school, has been the most public opponent of the plan. He contends that building the school in an industrial area is a mistake.

Bemis also thinks that Locust and the intersection of 30th and Locust will not be adequate or safe when school traffic is added.

Bemis has some credibility because he's a trucking executive. He also served not too many years ago on the Quincy School Board and was president for a brief time. In addition, Bemis is a good guy.

For those reasons, there will almost certainly be some aldermen who will vote against granting a special permit for the school.

Meanwhile, there are good guys and credible people on the other side of the issue.

Joel Murphy, Quincy School District business manager, has reminded aldermen that voters overwhelmingly approved an $89 million school construction project with the understanding that schools would be built in each of the city's quadrants.

The 20-acre tract in question was donated by ADM as a show of support to the community.

School Board member Mike Troup said the School District approached ADM with the intention of buying that land, which had been up for sale for several years. Troup said the choice of the site was made before ADM made the donation.

Todd Moore of Architechnics Inc. told how the building will be constructed 240 feet north of Locust. Driving loops will be built to handle buses and private vehicles. And an extra lane will be added to Locust to improve safety.

Moore said he has driven along Locust, and farther west he saw children playing on sidewalks and in yards. And there are places where pedestrians may cross that street. If traffic is a danger at 30th and Locust, Moore wondered whether it should be seen as a danger along other parts of Locust.

Quincy Superintendent Roy Webb said the team of administrators, teachers and other staff members will mitigate risks at 30th and Locust, just as they do at other school buildings.

None of the Quincy Public Schools buildings are in a perfect location where no risks are present. There are no sites in Quincy or anywhere else that fit that description.

Beyond those considerations, the Quincy City Council faces some tight constraints.

Illinois governernment units are expected to follow the recommendations of their zoning and planning boards unless something new and unexpected is brought to their attention after the initial hearing.

Bemis spoke to the Quincy Plan Commission in late March, and his thorough list of concerns at that meeting actually works against his chances of success now. He has spoken at council meetings since the Plan Commission voted 6-3 in favor of the special permit. Although he's added some extra detail, the concerns continue to be traffic, heavy trucks mingling with passenger vehicles and whether there's a better site somewhere else.

Both alderman from the 3rd Ward, Paul Havermale and Jared Holbrook, support the school. It is rare that the council overrules the ward aldermen on planning issues.

In order to reject the special permit request, aldermen would have to say they don't trust the Quincy School Board, another elected body that has studied the site for months and formulated plans to address safety.

If the City Council does that, it could potentially cost the School District hundreds of thousands of dollars, lead to a delay in the construction schedule and force the council members to explain that action to voters.

In addition, aldermen would have to discount the recommendation of the Department of Planning and Development, which supported the special permit. And they would have to overrule the Quincy Plan Commission, which is tasked with considering this kind of issue.

It should be noted that some aldermen have made the mistake of calling this a zoning issue. Professional staff has been clear that under city code and state law, this is a request for a special permit for a planned development. Schools within an industrial area are a less intense use but are permitted, and a zoning change is not needed.

Bemis also suggested the council take a compromise position and send the issue back to the Plan Commission with some questions.

There's a major problem with that strategy for aldermen. First, they have to ask what questions would make any difference with either opponents or proponents of the site. Then they would have to expect this issue could come back in a few weeks and the City Council would host another vigorous series of debates before they would find themselves facing the same prickly decision.

This issue won't go away without a tough vote.