Suburban case study: Who regulates the local college?
COD vs. Glen Ellyn highlights hodge-podge of regulation
In Glen Ellyn, any resident who wants to put an addition on a house, construct a garage, or build anything else has to have a building inspection, get work permits and likely obtain zoning variance approvals from the village.
But one institution -- the College of DuPage -- argued the village has no jurisdiction over its booming $500 million campus building program that began in 2007.
So the two sides spent 18 months and more than $500,000 combined in legal fees to determine who has the proper authority over the 273-acre campus.
COD attorneys argued that the college's building projects were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Community College Board, an 11-member appointed body that oversees all 49 community colleges in the state. College-hired architects and engineers, they maintained, were retained in accordance with ICCB rules to perform building inspections.
The village, meanwhile, said the ICCB didn't have the manpower to review building plans and, as such, village inspectors were best suited to conduct independent inspections.
A Daily Herald analysis found that regulations for building inspections, permitting and related fees at community colleges in the suburbs varies from school to school, and town to town.
At COD, it appears the long-brewing battle between the village with a population of 27,000 and the state's largest community college is coming to a simmer, following the DuPage County Board's approval last week of a five-year agreement that keeps COD within the corporate limits of Glen Ellyn, while all jurisdictional authority on campus transfers to the county.
The deal was previously ratified by the Glen Ellyn Village Board and COD board of trustees.
But what remains unsolved is the issue of whether municipalities, counties or some other governmental entity is responsible for the regulation of new construction on community college campuses throughout the state.
At Waubonsee Community College in unincorporated Kane County, for example, county inspectors do not do building inspections or plan reviews, according to Mark VanKerkhoff, the county's director of development and community services.
The 243-acre home campus, near Sugar Grove, has undergone a significant transformation since 2005, with the opening of four new buildings as part of a 2020 master plan.
VanKerkhoff called the building review process "self-permitting."
"They're in a sense another unit of government as a community college district," VanKerkhoff said. "Different jurisdictions work together in a variety of ways. We're all in a sense a sub-jurisdiction, or sub-entity, of the state."
He noted that the local fire protection district in Sugar Grove performs life safety inspections of Waubonsee buildings.
Waubonsee President Christine Sobek said the college has "worked collaboratively" with the county on all work being done on campus -- in particular, an upgraded stormwater management plan and installation of a traffic light.
"In a state where there's so many units of local government, partnerships and collaboration is required to get anything accomplished," she said.
Such is the case at College of Lake County, which has an intergovernmental agreement with the village of Grayslake that leaves jurisdiction over building inspections up to the state.
"They don't expect us to perform them, and we aren't expected to perform them," said Derek Soderholm, Grayslake's assistant village manager.
In Palatine, the village doesn't oversee buildings at Harper College, but, similar to the situation at Waubonsee, the local fire department does perform life safety inspections, according to Harry Spila, Palatine's director of community services.
He added, "There are regulations other than those under the village. I can only assume they're following those regulations."
COD President Robert Breuder was president at Harper from 1998 to 2008. Breuder has previously suggested that Palatine officials tried to enforce local building regulations during his tenure, but they "pushed away" after the college "pushed back."
"They didn't execute. Palatine didn't do it to us. They valued Harper in Palatine," Breuder said.
Spila said in the 11 years he has been with the village, he can't recall a time there was any contention with Harper.
Some community colleges, however, do submit to local building approvals and inspections.
Elgin Community College goes through the city of Elgin's zoning process, gets building permits, pays all associated fees, and has the work reviewed and approved by city inspectors, said Marc Mylott, the city's director of community development.
The college recently completed construction of a new library and a health and life sciences building. Renovations are being made to the student resource center and a new public safety and sustainability center is planned -- outside of Elgin in Burlington.
"We have a strong town-grown relationship with the city of Elgin," said ECC President David Sam. "We believe that the second pair of eyes from our eyes is helpful because these buildings are to last for a long time. It's helpful we have those eyes giving us some direction."
Collaboration -- or lack thereof -- is what got Glen Ellyn and COD to this point.
The two sides had an intergovernmental agreement in place regarding village regulation of COD's building program. But after a year and a half, the college withdrew from the deal, arguing it ceded too much control to the village. And last year, the two sides bickered over different versions of a new agreement and were never able to get on the same page.
It was only after DuPage Circuit Court Judge Terence Sheen told both parties to sit down with another judge for mediation last month that an agreement -- albeit temporary -- was hashed out.
Sheen previously ruled that COD could be subject to local building codes and inspections, though he also suggested there's overlapping jurisdiction. The village had requested that Sheen issue a more direct ruling on which specific codes he believed the college was subject to, but that process was ongoing as the two sides worked with the mediator.
One condition of the mediated agreement is that both sides agree to drop their lawsuits against each other. As a result, a more definitive ruling by Sheen won't happen.
Ellen Andres, the chief financial officer of the state community college board, said all community colleges in the state must adhere to a set of construction standards, but the ICCB itself doesn't perform building inspections or review plans.
"We just don't have the staff and are not qualified to do that," Andres said.
That's unlike the process for K-12 schools, which are inspected through county regional offices of education.
However, Andres noted there are life safety inspections of community colleges done on the local level, before final building occupancy permits are granted by municipalities or counties.
That's similar to Harper's relationship with the Palatine Fire Department, for example.
But a line in ICCB's building manual states that colleges must also abide by "any local building codes that may be more restrictive" -- a statement that has garnered varying interpretations from town to town.
"This is what everybody is arguing about," Andres said. "In Glen Ellyn, they are taking that literally: 'If we are going to be giving you fire protection, we want some say in it.' Other communities aren't doing that."
COD has petitioned the ICCB for a rule change that would specify what codes community colleges must comply with. Andres said ICCB staff is currently reviewing the proposal.