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Chicago Public Schools Wed Jun 22 2011
By Kelsey Duckett
Pilsen community members and parents of students at Whittier Elementary School are outraged as Chicago Public School officials have chosen not to honor a deal that would have saved the school's fieldhouse, aka "la Casita."
The deal, which was reached while Mayor Daley was still in office, would have given community members and parents the chance to meet with officials to devise a plan that would suit both the needs of the students and the school.
"CPS has not been consistent with us, and have most definitely not kept their word," said Carolina Gaete, an supporter and advocate of the Whittier Parent Committee. "With the change in administration, we keep getting shuffled from one person to the next, and no one is listening or allowing us a voice."
The Whittier Parent Committee had a chance to speak this morning at the monthly CPS board meeting, but as they found themselves downtown, they received word that CPS officials and the Chicago Police Department had arrived at the school.
One community member, who wished to remain unnamed, said parents and community members were told to stay off school property by CPS officials. Ed Ryan, a member of CPS Safety and Security, was one of those officials. He refused to comment.
As construction workers arrived so did the Chicago Police Department, and fences were put up surrounding the school suggesting that construction would be taking place soon.
CPS spokesman Franklin Shuftan e-mailed this statement on behalf of the district:
Today, a Chicago Public Schools contractor erected fencing around a portion of Whittier School that will allow for construction of a new library for Whittier School students. We are excited that this long anticipated project has begun. The library will provide a great place for children to enhance their learning opportunities. Construction of the library within Whittier will honor a commitment made by CPS to the Whittier community last year and we believe placement of the library within the school is the best option for the students. Because of the construction activity that will be taking place, it was necessary to fence off an area of the school property to avoid the potential for injury. We will continue working with the Whittier community on related issues, such as the pending lease of the Whittier Field House to the Whittier Parent Committee.
Evelin Santos, an organizer for the Whittier Parent Committee and the head spokesperson at Wednesday's CPS board meeting, said the only reason the sit-ins were halted was because "a promise had been made by CPS officials that there would be no construction until we testified."
"Clearly, they had no intention to wait," she said. "As we left to testify at today's board meeting, CPS officials were arriving with construction crews to begin preparing for construction. CPS did not uphold their promise, and instead waited until no one would be at the school and showed up to begin the stages of construction."
The Whittier Parent Committee, with the help of elected officials and TIF funds, has raised $564,000 to go to the renovation and construction of the a new library and community center.
"We found our own money," Santos said. "We don't need CPS money. They [CPS] can cry all they want about the $720 million deficit, but it is their own fault and it can be attributed to the way they wastefully spend money."
The proposal given by CPS at Wednesday's board meeting was one page, compared to the 40-page document provided by 10 architects, who have worked on the plans for the project pro bono.
"We haven't spent one penny, we have done everything with zero dollars," Santos said. "But they won't even hear our proposal. Their plan, which would use the entire $564,000 that we raised, would waste so much money. Our plan costs $200,000. Their plan, which is just building a library inside the school which would displace special education students, would cost the entire sum -- that is $517 per square foot."
Gaete said that CPS has basically said to the community, "When the hell are you going to be happy?"
UPDATE: Members of the pro bono team of architects who developed the fieldhouse renovation plans sent Gapers Block the following statement clarifying the cost of their plan:
Part of the lease agreement between CPS and the Whittier Parent Committee was to repair existing building violations within the fieldhouse. CPS provided the Committee with an extensive report outlining the current building code violations and also a preliminary budget for the repairs that amounted to $800,000. The pro bono architecture team used this budget as part of the design parameters and preliminary cost analysis confirms the design falls within this budget. The Committee would have to raise about $200,000 more than the $564,000 already dedicated to the renovation. We hope to have the opportunity to present these designs to CPS, Mr. Brizard and Alderman Solis as they were not able to attend the meetings when we presented to the community.
"They think by giving us a library we will just go away, but we don't just want a library, we want a community space, we want a green, eco-friendly library and we don't want to displace our special education students to do so," she said.
Santos said CPS plan is not thought out, and doesn't address the school or communities needs in the future.
"We are not going to stop, we are not going to let them throw away our money," she said. "They have no sat with us, they have not heard us. They are making a non-educated decision, they are supposed to be professional. This plan was made without the input of the parents and community, we lost our dialogue."
The Whittier Parent Committee planned a press conference for 7:30pm Wednesday night. Meanwhile, a statement of solidarity with the committee was being circulated on Facebook, and an online petition to Ald Daniel Solis asking him to stop the demolition of fieldhouse continued to receive signatures.
Kelsey Duckett is a freelance journalist. Photos by Lindsay Gunderson.