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The [Whittier] Papers

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked school team was so concerned about the structural integrity of a Pilsen school fieldhouse - and in such a rush to tear it down - they didn't even wait to get a demolition permit, City Hall disclosed Monday," Fran Spielman and Maudlyne Ihejirika "report" for Sun-Times.

Yes, they were so concerned they waited until a Friday night in August to interrupt a dance class taking place in the fieldhouse to begin its demolition.

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"'The order was issued after the Department of Buildings reviewed the architect's/structural engineer's report that deemed the building was unsafe to occupy and a hazard to the community,' [mayoral spokesman Bill] McCaffrey wrote in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times."

Look, if you're gonna let public officials just send in statements via e-mail, you could at least add them to the byline.

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Apparently Spielman and Ihejirika don't read their own paper.

From reporter Kim Janssen's account on Saturday:

CPS first tried to raze the building on safety grounds in 2010, but relented after parents and activists occupied the building for 43 days, saying their community desperately needed it to keep kids off the street. Former CPS CEO Ron Huberman offered the group a $1-a-year lease and offered to help it find the funds to renovate.

But a dispute over the lease's terms meant the parents group never signed it, and promises of TIF funding from Ald. Danny Solis and state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) fell short of the $1.2 million CPS says a fix would cost.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that "it has always been clear that if this field house was not brought up to code then it could be demolished" if it became "not suitable for habitation."

That moment arrived Aug. 12, when structural engineers Perry and Associates noted further deterioration and found that "the building is not safe for occupancy." Carroll said.

With just a week before teachers returned for the new school year the demolition "needed to be done quickly" and there wasn't time to consult with the parents group, she said.

"They've had three years - they didn't sign the lease," Carroll added.

Still, Carroll couldn't point to any specific CPS warning that the building would be demolished since Huberman spared it in 2010.

And documents provided by CPS to the Sun-Times show that Perry and Associates issued an almost identical report condemning the building as unsafe more than three months ago on May 5 - calling into question the rationale Carroll gave for the hurried destruction this weekend.

Quizzed about the matter, CPS officials said they needed the second report to confirm what they had learned in May.

The building was so unsafe in May that the city continued to let it be used for another three months before getting a second opinion. Then, upon getting a second report declaring the building unsafe, the city let it be used another four days before moving in to demolish it.

And yet, there wasn't enough time to get a demolition permit or warn the community - or even call ahead to have the building evacuated, given that it posed such an imminent threat.

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The local alderman got a heads-up, though.

And then Solis split.

"On his Facebook page, Ald. Danny Solis said he would be meeting with CPS and Whittier parents on Saturday morning," Curtis Black reports for Newstips.

"But at a back-to-school fair he sponsored Saturday morning - where Whittier supporters showed up to confront him - a staffer told the Sun-Times Solis was 'out of town, on vacation.'"

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Curiously, so was Rahm.

And on Monday when he got back? No dice.

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"The dilapidated field house was the scene of a 43-day sit-in in 2010," Linda Lutton reports for WBEZ. "Parents and activistis said at the time that they wanted to save the structure so it could be turned into a library for the school, which didn't have one. The sit-in drew attention to the fact that more than 160 Chicago Public Schools lacked libraries.

"Book donations from around the country poured in, and the push to save 'La Casita' became a symbol for activists fighting for local control of schools and self-determination of educational priorities. Architects, working pro-bono, drew up remodeling plans that never came to be. CPS documents indicate Whittier school now has a library - but parents say that is untrue. They say children have books in their classrooms, but still no library."

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Here's Lutton on WBEZ's Morning Shift on Monday:

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"Chicago Public Schools says it plans to begin work immediately on a new playground, turf field and basketball courts to be located on the playlot where the field house once stood. The new fields will be paid for using TIF funds, according to CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll."

Here's an idea: Use TIF funds to build . . . a library! Maybe a community center too!

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Or a soccer field. For a private school.

"Since late 2009, many in the community have feared a plan floated by nearby Jesuit high school Cristo Rey that would have transformed the Whittier playground, parking lot, and field house into an artificial-turf soccer field."

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Whittier: What Fanned The Flames.

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"This was a safe haven."

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Top tweets:

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See also: #Whittier.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on August 20, 2013


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