Elected officials gathered with residents from Near South Side communities Monday to call for a new South Loop high school to be built at an alternative location.
The demonstrators criticized Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Housing Authority for planning to build the school on CHA land that they say should be used for public housing.
“We cannot privatize and push for more sites that take away from public housing in a time when there is dire need,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, said.
CPS currently plans to build the school on land leased from the CHA at the site where the former Harold Ickes Homes public housing complex once stood. The school is set to be built near State and 24th streets to the east of Chinatown. The demonstrators called on CPS to instead build the school on a city-owned parcel northwest of Chinatown in East Pilsen at Canal and 17th streets.
The Chicago Board of Education narrowly approved a plan to facilitate a lease of the Ickes Homes land from the CHA in a 4-3 September vote. The board approved the $10.3 million purchase of a plot of land set to be exchanged with the CHA to make the lease possible.
[ Plan for new South Side high school narrowly passed by Chicago Board of Education, amid both opposition and praise ]
At the time of the vote, detractors argued the plans to build the new school were rushed and the expensive project — expected to cost $120 million — meant existing schools wouldn’t get funding. However, Chinatown leaders argued the school is desperately needed in the growing area.
State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, stood alongside demonstrators Monday by the proposed alternative site, which is near the Amtrak Chicago Car Yard and several industrial buildings.
“The city really should have engaged the community members a lot more authentically to come up with a site that is something that everyone can agree on,” Mah said.
The alternative site wasn’t considered because the city was “so quick to choose the one that they decided on without consulting the community,” said Mah, who represents Chinatown, Bridgeport, Pilsen and other Near Southwest neighborhoods in the 2nd District.
The state representative said she never got a satisfactory reason when she asked city officials why the alternative site wasn’t being considered. The Ickes Homes site was chosen in part for “expedience for the mayor’s purposes,” she argued.
Sigcho-Lopez shared his support for a Chinatown high school to be built. However, the construction must happen at another site, he said.
He argued the plan to use CHA land for purposes other than new affordable housing construction matches other CHA plans. He cited a plan the City Council approved in September allowing the CHA to lease land to the Chicago Fire. The soccer team plans to build a 24-acre, $80 million training complex at the site of the former ABLA public housing complex.
[ City Council backs Chicago Fire soccer training facility on CHA land, reversing earlier no vote and over objections by some public housing advocates ]
“Respect the will of the residents. Let’s look at these alternatives,” he said, calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the candidates running for mayor to commit to stopping “CHA land grabs.”
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Public housing residents need housing and Chinese immigrant students need a school that supports bilingual services, said activist Angela Lin, of the Chinatown-based community group People Matter. Many parents prefer the alternative site and would consider not sending their children to the new school if it’s built at the planned Ickes Homes site, Lin said.
“If the city really wants to build a new school and wants it to succeed, they need to listen to our community. They need to listen to our Black and Chinese residents,” Lin said.
After a former Ickes Homes resident called on the CHA to invest more in currently available public housing, Lugenia Burns Hope Center director Roderick Wilson argued control over what site is used ultimately belongs to the mayor.
The land exchange between CPS and CHA needed to facilitate a lease for the school at the planned Ickes Home site has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Wilson said. He believes the location could still change.
“Our communities don’t want it at 24th and State. We don’t. We want housing. That’s what we need,” Wilson said. The CHA hasn’t created nearly as many new units as it took away from Ickes and other public housing complexes torn down as a part of its transformation plan, he argued.
“If you’re not building the housing, how are we going to end up staying here?”