- Chandler West/Sun-Times Media
- Demolition crews dismantling the fieldhouse behind Whittier Elementary.
Driving home last weekend from another well-deserved and much-needed vacation, I got a little mixed up when people started texting me about Mayor Emanuel’s early-morning bulldozers.
I was hoping he’d come to his senses and bulldozed his plan to waste at least $55 million on that DePaul basketball arena/hotel in the south loop.
Instead, it turns out he bulldozed the little field house at Whittier, a public school in Pilsen, which had become a symbol of resistance to all-powerful mayors.
In doing so, he pissed the hell out of just about everyone—teachers, activists, progressives, etc.—who already hated his guts. Which is probably why he did it in the first place.
As you undoubtedly remember, the field house—nicknamed La Casita—was the subject of a heated showdown about three years ago between Mayor Daley’s school appointees and local activists and parents.
Daley and his aides insisted the field house was rickety and liable to collapse at any minute. The activists took the position that Alderman Danny Solis and Congressman Luis Gutierrez—two of Daley’s local allies—were looking for any excuse to clear the land for a soccer field for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, the private school conveniently located across 23rd Street.
Decide for yourself, Chicago.
In any event, residents staged a 43-day sit-in at the field house until Mayor Daley basically decided, the hell with this crap. Give ’em what they want.
You know, I’m really starting to miss Mayor Daley.
Anyway, that’s sort of where things stood—with residents using the field houses for classes and a small library—till Mayor Emanuel brought in the bulldozers last Saturday morning on the grounds that the field house was a safety hazard.
Lost in the rubble is the fact that the whole thing sort of started over a library.
Back in 2010, when the locals got wind that Mayor Daley was setting aside thousands of dollars to tear down the field house, they responded by asking: instead of using that money to demolish something, why not use it to build a library?
Turns out that Whittier’s one of the 160 or so schools in CPS without a library. In negotiations with residents, Daley administration officials promised to give Whittier a library. In fact, for a brief moment I sort of hoped the showdown would inspire our city and civic leaders to make sure that every school had one.
Out of curiosity, I checked in with a Whittier teacher to see if CPS had at least made good on its promise to give Whittier a library.
“The short answer is no,” said the teacher.
And the long answer?
“Sometime after the sit-in, CPS started to turn a classroom—room 202—into a library. They installed shelves and added tables and chairs. Then they got into a dispute with parents over how the library would be built. Eventually, they [CPS] ran out of gas. They didn’t buy books. And they didn’t set aside money to hire a librarian. So now we use the room for staff meetings, professional development and a cooling center on hot days.”
A cooling center?
“Yes, you know—where you go on super hot days when the kids are falling asleep or having heat headaches.”
Irony of ironies—CPS officials installed two air conditioner units in room 202 before they dropped their library project. Now it’s one of the few rooms at Whittier with AC.
And so on those hotter than hot days, when the temperature in some classrooms hits the high 90s, teachers take their students to room 202 before all of them drop like flies.
Ah yes, the joys of teaching in Chicago.
Maybe one of these days Mayor Emanuel will get around to finishing that library—stocking it with books and hiring a librarian to run it. But, first, he says he’s going to install that soccer field where the field house used to be.
I love soccer fields as much as the next guy—so thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Of course, in a perfect world—or at least one that’s like the mayor’s hometown of Wilmette—we wouldn’t have to choose between soccer fields and libraries. We’d have both—because that’s what civilized societies provide for their children.
Then again, Wilmette can afford soccer fields and libraries—and lots of other things—because they don’t waste tens of millions of property tax dollars on stupid stuff. Like that DePaul mishegoss in the South Loop.
I know you’re glad to have me back, Mr. Mayor!