By Louise Scott, Gary Crusader
The owner of the former Beckman Middle School continues to draw complaints from neighbors as the city decides on a proposal for a zoning variance that will allow Larry Webb to operate a training school at Beckman Middle School.
Webb, owner of Eclipse Charter & Tours and Eclipse Limousine, purchased Beckman School back in 2011 as a place to park his fleet of buses and limousines. Before he could get started literally, his operation was put to a halt when neighbors surrounding the school began to complain about the idling sound of the buses, the exhaust fumes and the traffic problems the buses caused.
Webb eventually moved his business to the closed Tyson Ford Dealership in Gary after the city offered it to him, but it was becoming a problem for him when he learned that the building’s plumbing, electricity and heating was inoperable. Eventually Webb had to move from the dealership because it was sold to a tarp company.
Webb decided to request for a variance from the city back at his Beckman Middle School property to start a training school that would teach carpentry, plumbing and commercial driving. The variance was recently deferred by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
The school would also receive hands-on training in renovating the school. That too became a problem when the city told him that he needed permission from the state to open a trade school.
He said, “I’ve been a general contractor for 42 years. I got subcontractors to train in different trades. I won’t be operating the school. I have another gentleman to run the school. He came to me looking for a school. I was in the process of looking for a place for my buses. What people don’t understand is you can’t give away property in Gary. You can’t borrow any money to do any repairs. This could be a starter for the city. Where the buses come in at is where the money would come from. The rent money would hire the subcontractors to train the trainees who would do the work on the school. The money has to come from somewhere. I tried to give the building away. I tried to sell it. I tried to borrow money against it. You can’t borrow nothing. There are too many vacant buildings in Gary. It’s a bad risk.”
Webb said when they were passing out flyers to come to his meeting he saw at least 50 vacant homes in the area two to three blocks from the school. “How can you invest in a neighborhood like that?” he said.
Webb said when he spoke to the BZA about his variance, he was told to call the state to find out to do. He said, “The state is not going to approve nothing like that. You have to turn in some blueprints and plans and they can OK that, but they are not going to OK something by just doing what you say. We did that three years ago. I’m not going through that again.”
When Webb held the meeting last week with the residents of the neighborhood, he said only 3 or 4 people attended the meeting. Webb said he circulated flyers the week before to inform the residents of the meeting.
Webb said “I’m not going to spend money in that school and build a shop somewhere else too. I’m going to either fix up Beckman School or relocate somewhere else. I’m not going through this run around talking about drawing up blueprints. You don’t need all that to get the zoning changed.”
Webb said if city allowed him to have the variance for the trade school, Gary would benefit from it. He said, “Just look out there at IUN. They say they don’t have no qualified people out there because there aren’t any to do the work. There is some work coming up at the hospital. They need people, but where are they going to get them from? If they are not trained they can’t do the work. People come up to me every day asking me for a job and I ask them if they have a CDL license, if they don’t they can’t drive. My school would train these people to do these jobs. You can’t hire them if they can’t do anything.”