GEL SHARE: Glen Ellyn Village Trustee Peter Cooper Shares View On COD Conflict

Trustee Peter Cooper

OPEN LETTER FROM VILLAGE OF GLEN ELLYN TRUSTEE PETER COOPER

Dear Friends:

It is almost precisely two years since I took my oath of office on becoming a Village Trustee for the Village of Glen Ellyn. During that time, I have tried to never lose sight of my sacred obligation to protect your trust and to pursue the best interests of our Village and its citizens. The work has frequently been hard and occasionally tedious, but it has almost always been rewarding.

Today, we are faced with an issue that affects the health and safety of our children, our neighbors and our guests. On Monday, the Village Board will be asked to adopt an Intergovernmental Agreement with the College of DuPage by which the Village will essentially cede all of its oversight and responsibility for COD’s Glen Ellyn campus to COD. In particular, we will be asked to permit COD to design and construct a Culinary & Hospitality Center (CHC), Homeland Security Education Center (HEC), and renovations to the Berg Instructional Center (BIC) and Student Resource (SRC) without full and proper review of the building plans and designs and without adequate inspection of the actual construction. These buildings, which will house thousands of students, and hundreds of faculty and employees, will be built with less independent oversight and review than if you added on to your garage. I do not believe that the Village can, in good conscience, abandon its obligations to oversee the safe design and construction of buildings within its jurisdiction. I urge you to join me in opposing the proposed Intergovernmental Agreement.

Now, for some background:

Formed in 1965, COD acquired the 273-acre Lambert Farms cite in Glen Ellyn in 1968, and began building its “home” campus. For the first forty years of its existence, COD worked cooperatively with the Village in designing and constructing buildings on its campus, in addressing traffic and parking concerns, in approaching storm water issues, and, in general, being a valued neighbor and important member of the community.

Although the Village and College disagreed about the scope of the Village’s jurisdiction, they found ways to work together to assure the efficient performance of the College and its educational mission and the safety, protection and well-being of the Village and its citizens. In the middle of last decade, the College embarked on an ambitious expansion plan. To that end, the Village and COD adopted an intergovernmental agreement in May 2007 that expedited the plan review process for new construction and reduced fees and expenses for the College. Unfortunately, in 2008, the COD President renounced the intergovernmental agreement, and the College has thwarted all efforts to negotiate a compromise. The College now takes the position that the Village cannot enforce practically any of its codes and ordinances, with the exception of the County storm water ordinance and certain limited police powers.

The Village’s interest has never been in asserting jurisdiction strictly for its own sake. We have attempted to craft compromise solutions that meet our objectives of assuring public safety and convenience, while imposing minimum expense to the College and expediting completing of construction. For example, the Village has offered to allow design and inspection to be performed by third-parties whom the College could select. Our objective has been to assure that the plan and building inspection is performed independently bysomeone, not that it be performed by the Village, alone. The College has declined our proposals.

What is happening now:

The College is currently constructing and renovating four buildings on campus and has refused to follow the Village codes and ordinances. During the course of on-going litigation, COD reluctantly allowed the Village’s Planning Department to review its “90%” plans for the CHC and HEC. The Village identified literally scores or errors and omissions in the plans – some of which were insignificant or easily rectified, but many of which were material – and the College has corrected or addressed many of the deficiencies. Nevertheless, the College has refused to disclose the remainder of the plans, which include major safety systems, to the Village’s Planning staff, and the College says that it will not permit the Village’s inspectors or representatives to visit the building sites to assure that the new buildings are being constructed in accordance with national building codes or the building designs. Rather, the College insists that Village and our residents should “trust” them.

Please don’t misunderstand. I honestly believe that the College’s administration and Board of Trustees has the interests of its students, faculty and staff at heart. I also believe that they are committed to providing a safe environment in which members of the COD community can work and study. But no one sets out to design unsafe buildings and no one intends to build unsafe structures. Rather, inadequate design and incompetent construction happen despite peoples’ best intentions.

And our own recent experience with COD in connection with construction of Health Careers and Natural Sciences building shows just how important that oversight is. In 2007, the Village’s review of the design plans for Health Careers and Natural Sciences revealed a number of deficiencies and omissions, all of which were addressed and corrected before completion of construction. The fact that the plans had these deficiencies was neither devastating nor extraordinary. The whole point of plan review and inspection is to catch and correct these problems in time.

As matters stand now, however, we will not have the benefit of this oversight and review with respect to the buildings that COD is currently constructing. As I stated, COD has engaged architects and engineers with solid reputations, who certainly intend to design safe buildings; likewise, COD’s contractors and subcontractors fully plan to build these structures safely and in accordance with the architects’ designs. Unfortunately, COD’s refusal to abide by Village law will deprive the project of the review and oversight that we demand of every private citizen building an addition to her house and every commercial builder erecting a new store.

Some have questioned why COD should be subject to Village oversight – isn’t there some other agency or entity that assures COD’s safe construction of the buildings on campus? The simple answer is “no.” Illinois law exempts local school districts, such as Districts 41, 87 and 89, from complying with local building codes and ordinances. Instead, the School Law charges the Regional Superintendent with reviewing design and construction of schools and additions. Our own Regional Superintendent has a robust planning and review staff, who assure that our elementary and high schools are safe and secure structures. The Regional Superintendent does not oversee construction of community colleges. The Illinois Community College Board, which generally oversees community colleges, has no design and planning staff. Planning and construction are left to the localities where the community colleges are located.

What am I asking of you?

For the past 18 months, your Village Board has worked diligently to try to find a solution to our dispute with COD – a solution that would accomplish our objective of assuring that COD would design and build safe structures and would act as a good and considerate neighbor. Unfortunately, COD’s president and counsel have rejected our overtures of compromise and cooperation. Our Village President, Mark Pfefferman, repeatedly has been subjected to scorn and abuse, but consistently has turned the other cheek as he tried to negotiate solutions that would advance the interests of the Village and College communities.

Unfortunately, the “compromise” that will be presented to the Village Board on Monday is no compromise at all – it is complete and total abdication. First, the draft Intergovernmental Agreement does not address the current construction. Under the agreement, COD will be able to continue the construction of these four massive and intricate structures without Village oversight or inspection. I know of no other modern structure in our community that has been designed and constructed in this way. Second, the Village agrees not to enforce any of its codes or ordinances, except our traffic and criminal rules, and our restaurant and liquor licensing with respect to COD. Although our negotiators thought the parties had agreed that the Village could enforce its “quasi-criminal” regulations, the College has balked. Finally, with respect to future construction, the Village will be limited to sharply constrained review and comment rights, subject to the College’s willingness to accept proposed changes. In essence, the College will abide by whatever few rules it chooses, regardless of the effects on the Glen Ellyn community.

Surprisingly, the Intergovernmental Agreement has taken on a life of its own. Some Village Board members fear that the College may disconnect from the Village if we enforce our ordinances. Others fear the expense of continued litigation. None have the appetite for conflict and dispute that seems to fuel the College and its leadership. Thus, unless you act now and voice your objections, the other Village Trustees will reluctantly vote to surrender Village jurisdiction and the safety of our community in favor of the adoption of an Intergovernmental Agreement.

What can you do?
First, please contact your Village President and Village Trustees:
Village President Mark Pfefferman mpfeffermanvb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Jim Comerford jcomerfordvb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Peter Cooper pcoopervb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Phil Hartweg phartwegvb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Carl Henninger chenningervb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Pete Ladesic pladesicvb@glenellyninfo.org
Village Trustee Michelle Thorsell mthorsellvb@glenellyninfo.org
Second, please attend the Village Board Workshop, at 7:00, and Village Board Meeting, at 8:00 on Monday, to voice your opinion and make clear that you will not stand for this abdication of responsibility.

Third, please forward this e-mail to your friends and neighbors. The College has employed its paid public relations staff and outside consultants to misrepresent the issues of this dispute. Glen Ellyn residents simply do not know or understand what is at stake. Only by sharing this information can we hope to protect our Village.
Conclusion.

The College of DuPage is one of Glen Ellyn’s treasures. We all hope and wish that the College and Village can continue to operate in an atmosphere of trust and shared endeavor. But we cannot compromise the safety of our children and neighbors or the livability of our neighborhoods to satisfy a truculent bully. Please raise your voices and show your opposition to protect this community that we love.
Thank you.

Trustee Peter Cooper
Village of Glen Ellyn

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