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Chicago Facilities Task Force is taking a close look at neglected public schools

The neglect of public schools on the northside is one of the topics the Chicago Educational Task Force will discuss at its third meeting Tuesday, September 28. The task force, which grew out of the Soto Bill, is supposed to get community imput about local schools before the Board of Education decides to close, consolidate, phase out, remodel or build new public schools in the city.

Massive protests in the last few years against the Renaissance 2010 Plan which mandates closing schools and opening 100 new schools has resulted in this task force, which was voted on unanimously in the state legislature.

Oriole Park Elementary School is one of dozens of north side schools that cited dramatic problems with their facilities during hearings in 2009. Substance photo from 2008 by George N. Schmidt.The Board's decision to fix up certain public schools before handing them over to private charter schools has enraged many people in communities where the public schools have been neglected for years.

For example, the Holmes Elementary School in Englewood suddenly received a new gym and handicapped accessible washrooms when it was announced the school would be a "turnaround" in 2008, in which the entire staff would be fired and management of the school turned over to the Academy of Urban School Leadership or AUSL.

Holmes teamed up with the activist teachers' group CORE to protest the closing, and along with a handful of other schools, the school was taken off the list.

Problems such as increased violence, increased mobility that hurts the children's academic learning, disrupting communities and children no longer having a neighborhood school to attend have been pointed out at the school closing hearings the past several years.

The sudden proposed "phase out" of Carpenter Elementary school in Rep. Cynthia Soto's district — in which the children would have to cross dangerous intersections to get to their new school among other problems — ignited the community to pressure Soto to do something about a process that many see favoring connected developers and private businesses more than the communities.

The task force is supposed to take all these problems into consideration before recommending what to do with the public schools and the particular facility problems.

Below are facilities problems identified in North Side schools by school staff and parents that resulted from the the transcripts of the 2009, 2008, and 2007 facilities hearings.

Greeley Elementary School

• A brown liquid from the air conditioning cooling tower leaks through classroom ceilings on hot days. Puddles of this liquid form on the floors within the building. These puddles pass through the classroom and library ceilings. This brown liquid has destroyed books, supplies, and computer equipment.

• The heating system is erratic and results in great changes in temperatures in the hallways and some other areas of the school. Younger students must wear their coats in the lunchroom.

Kelvyn Park High School

• The balancers that hold windows in place when they are open are worn and break. The finger of one custodian was severed by a falling window and had to be reattached. He was out of work for three months. Some students have also been injured by this same problem of heavy window that slam shut suddenly.

• The City and CPS contractors have agreed that the school's plumbing is outdated and unsafe. A stream of rusty water comes out of our spigots every Monday morning Deteriorating pipes are crossed, and hot and cold water are becoming mixed. New plumbing would improve the school's water pressure and the quality and safety of drinking water.

Stone Elementary School

• A child broke his ribs yesterday while playing on the playground equipment, because it is missing a safety bar.

• Every time it rains, the playing field fills up with water, and it remains for long periods

. • Only 10% of outside lighting is working. Almost all the lighting that runs along the back of the building is vandalized or missing.

Ravenswood Elementary School

• There are no treads to protect students as they come in any entrance and go to the first flight of stairs to get to their classrooms. We have had three falls this year, and one resulted in a trip to the hospital.

• The roof leaks all over the building, which causes paint peeling and stains. We believe the peeling paint is lead-based. We are experiencing crumbling of the foundation because of these leaks and because of plumbing problems.

The bathroom for our prekindergartners, which they must use every day, has exposed asbestos insulation.

DeDiego Elementary School

• The roof has leaked profusely for the past 15 years. This has resulted in wide cracks in walls, which required reinforcement. Children must be relocated from classrooms, because of peeling paint, falling plaster, and buckling floors.

• The asphalt parking lot is in gross disrepair, with gaping sinkholes by the sewers. We have been informed that we don't have enough sewers. This causes rain and snow to pool in certain areas. Because the pitch is incorrect, the water goes right up to the school entrance where the children enter thee building.

• The current cyclone fencing around the school grounds is being held together with plastic ties and shoestrings. This allow gang members from the neighborhood to pass from one block to the next. This is a real area of concern for our children's safety and contributes to vandalism of school property.

Lake View High School

• Because half of the seats in the auditorium are broken, students are forced to stand during performances and assemblies. Broken seats are a significant safety hazard.

• The fire alarm system frequently malfunctions, causing unnecessary evacuations of the school. This is disruptive and costly to our students' education. Our school has been fined several times for fire code violations as a result of these false alarms.

• Many lockers are broken or have missing parts. With too few lockers for our students, many students carry 30 to 50 pounds of textbooks in their back backs.

• Many floor tiles are broken and uneven, putting our students at risk of injury.

Decatur (Classical) Elementary School

The bathroom for the school's second floor can only be entered by walking through a classroom for learning disabled students. Thus, the program for these students is constantly being disrupted by student walking through their classroom to use this bathroom.

• When we have an assembly, 125 students must sit on the floor. Due to overuse, the floor has been coming apart. Tiles are kicked around, and we are concerned about asbestos.

We have two sets of bathrooms for 265 children, with six stalls in the girl's bathrooms and two stalls and four urinals in the boy's bathroom. Getting the children cleaned up after lunch can be a real task.

Monroe Elementary School

• Our first concern is the heating system. The digital controls are obsolete and inoperable right now. Approximately half of the maintenance budget is being used on patchwork repairs to the system annually. Some contractors have refused to repair the system, because it is so old.

• Our current security system has stationary cameras, and offenders can easily find ways to get around them. Every time we have to replace a window or door in a class, it costs us several thousand dollars in material and labor.

• We need to create adequate staff parking spaces, resurface our existing lots, and make the school handicapped accessible, which we don't currently have.

LaSalle Language Academy Elementary School

• The steel bars that hold up ceiling tiles are missing. The tiles are a real hazard for children, falling on their heads. Many tiles are just kind of hanging on two sides.

We have floors that are VCT, and they are missing. The asbestos now gets on kids shoes, and it goes all over the place.

• The boiler, which is ancient, takes up most of our maintenance budget.

DeDiego Elementary School

• Our windows have not been replaced since the 1970s. If you can look at the pictures, when it rains, the windows don't close, so the water comes straight into the classrooms, soaking the children's backpacks, their coats, and anything near the windows.

• It's also horrible in winter because the snow comes right in. Not only that, but once the elements start coming in, it's extremely cold in the building in the winter and extremely warm in the summer.

• We have many leaks in the school. These leaks, when not addressed, start to ruin the floors. We have a beautiful gymnasium, but the floor is now warped.

Goethe Elementary School

• The Playground area floods so much it’s been renamed Lake Goethe. The students cannot use the field that was created for them. Water sits for days after the rain has stopped.

• The windows are a source of problem with water leaking. We have rags that we stuff in the windows, but it doesn't keep all the water out. When it rains outside, it rains inside also. We have buckets in place, but they fill up quickly.

• The all-purpose room is also used as our lunchroom. It’s been cited by the Board of Health because of no running water. We are concerned about how to address that issue before we have another citation.

Oriole Park Elementary School

If you walk through our building from one classroom to another, on any given day during the wintertime, one classroom may be 100, 120 degrees, the other classroom may be 40, 60 degrees. That’s when the heating system is actually operating.

We are probably the only school that is still working on fuses. We spend a lot of our time replacing those fuses over the school year. The wiring itself probably needs some massive upgrading. Our computer lab is down half the time with electrical problems.

Walking from the modular units to the main building has always been an issue, a treacherous one, especially during inclement weather. When it’s snowing, children have to put on their coats, boots, and gloves.

Ebinger Elementary School

• The most urgent life safety issue is the reconnection of all the attic smoke detectors, which are currently turned off. In early February 2007, the Chicago Fire Department came to Ebinger on one weekend due to smoke detector problems. We were taken off the city alarm program.

• The bathrooms are in deplorable condition, There are holes where the pipes are loose in the walls, and tiles are falling off the walls. Three and a half years ago one of the marble dividers fell down, marble, about an inch and a half thick, and almost severely injured or killed a child."

• Falling plaster has been a serious in the past three months. We had a huge 6-foot by 3 foot chunk of plaster fall. Plaster is falling in areas that are normally occupied by children. 



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