Judge to rule today on battle between Glen Ellyn and College of DuPage

  • Is the College of DuPage an island to itself, or must it follow local building codes and ordinances of the village of Glen Ellyn? A judge is expected to make that determination Tuesday.

      Is the College of DuPage an island to itself, or must it follow local building codes and ordinances of the village of Glen Ellyn? A judge is expected to make that determination Tuesday. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • A judge is expected to rule today on whether the village of Glen Ellyn has jurisdiction over the 273-acre campus of the College of DuPage.

      A judge is expected to rule today on whether the village of Glen Ellyn has jurisdiction over the 273-acre campus of the College of DuPage. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/8/2011 5:03 AM

In a decision that could affect statewide the relationships between community colleges and the municipalities in which they are located, a DuPage County judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether the College of DuPage is subject to local ordinances and building codes in Glen Ellyn.

After more than a year of legal wrangling -- and at least another three years of out-of-court sparring -- college and village officials say they're hopeful the courts can provide direction on a question they haven't been able to answer on their own: Who's the boss?

 

"It was the college's belief more than a year ago that seeking resolution of this difference of opinion in the courts was the best approach," College of DuPage President Robert Breuder said in a statement.

Since the college began a major building program in 2007, officials have maintained that the village has no jurisdiction over the review, permitting, approval and inspection of new facilities -- and they haven't sought such village approvals as a result. Proper oversight, they argue, falls within the purview of the Illinois Community College Board, an 11-member appointed body that manages the state's 49 community colleges.

But the village has treated COD the same as anyone else who seeks to build a structure within village boundaries.

When the college began installing $2.3 million worth of new signs around campus during the summer of 2010, the village issued stop work orders and citations because the signs didn't fall within village code. That's when COD filed suit in DuPage County circuit court to prevent the village from issuing further citations, arguing the village doesn't have jurisdiction.

In legal briefs filed for the case, village attorneys argue that "the village's power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare" applies throughout Glen Ellyn, and includes the College of DuPage's 273-acre campus.

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As the college prepared to open four new or renovated buildings this summer, village officials requested written certifications from college-hired architects and engineers to verify the facilities were built to code -- in the absence of village-led building inspections. The village issued occupancy permits just weeks before classes began in August.

In court documents, COD attorneys say the buildings are "first rate" and were inspected and documented by architects and engineers retained in accordance with ICCB rules. On the contrary, the attorneys wrote, village inspectors "are mostly retired firefighters who do not have such educational attainment."

They also say the village's inspectors haven't turned up a single building code violation.

Village officials have noted the ICCB's building manual says colleges must abide by "any local building codes that may be more restrictive."

In an affidavit filed with the village's court papers, Ellen Andres, the chief financial officer of the ICCB, says the state board doesn't have staff or contractors that review building plans of community colleges.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Village attorneys called the college's peer review system "'Trust Me' self-regulation."

"If the village does not have authority over college construction, no independent government inspection will take place," they wrote.

The college has sought a change within ICCB rules that would specifically addresses what building and construction codes it must comply with.

Steve Morse, the ICCB's associate vice president for external affairs, said the board is looking at the issue, but taking a "wait and see" approach until the COD-Glen Ellyn court battle is resolved.

The state legislature would have final approval over any decision.

While Judge Terence Sheen's ruling on jurisdiction may be the first with respect to community colleges and municipalities, previous court decisions have dealt with the question.

A state appellate court ruled in 2000 that the city of Chicago could not enforce building, health and safety ordinances against the University of Illinois-Chicago because it was a "state-operated educational institution."

The village has argued that COD isn't such an institution, but a unit of local government that has taxing authority and its own elected board of trustees.

Village attorneys have cited a 1986 case in which a court ruled that the Wilmette Park District was required to seek a special use permit to install lights at a playing field from the village of Wilmette. At the time, the park district argued that it had immunity from the village.

Resolution of the jurisdictional question, COD attorneys say, "is extremely important as the college is in the midst of a campuswide building and renovation campaign that the village, by all indications, seems intent on thwarting by its illegal efforts to exert its permitting, inspections and ticketing powers against the college."

A resolution passed by the village board said the village is "enthusiastic" about the college's growth plans.

Village President Mark Pfefferman, a COD trustee in the 1980s, said he didn't foresee the disagreement between the village and college reaching this level. But he's optimistic for the future.

"In part due to my association with the college for over 25 years, I was hoping that the cooperation between the college and the village would soar to new heights," Pfefferman said in a statement. "I still believe that is possible."

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