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Whittier Elementary Fri Jun 24 2011
By Kelsey Duckett
The fight is on.
For the second consecutive day, parents and community activists have gathered at Whittier Elementary School to prevent construction crews from gaining access to begin construction on Chicago Public Schools plans to build a new library inside the school.
The community is outraged after CPS officials promised a discussion on the construction of the library; and 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis guaranteed, both while in office and during his re-election campaign, that TIF funds would be used for the renovation to the school's fieldhouse, known as "La Casita" and community center--which is also where the Whittier community would like the new library to be built.
About 70 parents and supporters gathered this morning while construction crews arrived to resume the project that began Tuesday. The crews left shortly after arrival and stated they would not cross a picket line.
Evelin Santos, an organizer for the Whittier Parent Committee, said the workers, which are a part of a union, made it clear they would not cross the line.
"They are here to begin construction," she said. "But as long as we are here they will not cross our picket line, that means we will be here all day, everyday until we have a chance to meet with CPS officials and the alderman to discuss a plan that meets the needs of everyone."
CPS officials made a promise to the school that no work would begin on the new library until everyone came together to discuss the needs and wants of the community. Santos said that never happened.
On Wednesday, the Whittier Parent Committee testified at CPS monthly board meeting but their voices were not heard as CPS officials and construction crews arrived at the school and put up construction fences during the Whittier communities testimony.
"They came when we were not here," Santos said. "They went back on a promise, and then tried to go behind our backs to begin work when no one was present. We will not leave the school until there is a resolution."
This isn't anything new for the Whittier community. In the fall of 2010, they staged a 43-day sit-in, this was when they first heard of the news to demolish the fieldhouse and replace it with a soccer field for a neighboring school.
Santos said that no one from Solis' office has responded--and that is after a letter was hand-delivered on Wednesday, and dozens of phone calls.
"We were promised by the alderman's scheduling assistant that we would have word on the time and date for a meeting," she said. "But no one has called, they haven't even sent anyone from the office. We are calling him out because he promised us during the last sit-in that the money from TIF funds would go directly to renovations, he also said it during his campaign."
Solis did not return calls for comment.
Santos said the parents and the community are frustrated. She said their voice was taken away, and they feel they can no longer trust CPS officials or their elected officials.
"They made a vote to move forward with construction without the people who the project is affecting," she said. "They want more programs for kids, and more parent involvement, but they want to demolish our community center and not listen to our children's parents -- it doesn't make any sense."
Santos said the parents of Whittier children are resilient and will not back down.
"The sit-in is on 24/7, someone will always be here," Santos said. "We will not leave at all. We want to get the meeting we were promised with CPS, and we want our alderman to answer our calls and letters for help. We are not scared and we will not back down."
Kelsey Duckett is a freelance journalist.
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information here.