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Schools Near O’Hare To Get Noise Barrier Cash

O'Hare Airport (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

O’Hare Airport (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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NORRIDGE, Ill. (STMW) – The jet noise at Ridgewood High School in Norridge gets so bad that teachers have to stop mid-sentence to wait for planes from nearby O’Hare Airport to pass by.

“We’ve timed planes going over every 17 seconds,” said Ridgewood Supt. Robert Lupo.

On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration approved Ridgewood and Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village as eligible to receive $20 million to $30 million to insulate their buildings from airplane noise.

The money won’t come immediately. The City of Chicago and the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, a group of towns and school districts impacted by the noise, first have to determine what kind of noise mitigation is needed, and pass that information on to the FAA. The FAA can’t enter into long-term grants right now, because it’s waiting for Congress to approve a new annual budget, according to FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.

Once that happens, the schools can be funded, with the FAA paying 80 percent and Chicago 20 percent.

The schools had originally been approved as eligible for sound insulation in 2004. But the FAA decided not to fund them because of new “noise contour” projections associated with O’Hare modernization.

Government officials, including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), asked the FAA to reconsider. “The reality is they’re getting the noise today, and we fully expect they’ll continue to get some level of noise in the future,” said Brendan McLaughlin, executive director of the ONCC.

Lupo said air traffic has actually increased over the school since a new runway opened in November 2008.

Both Ridgewood, with 920 students, and Elk Grove High School, with 2,000 students, tested above the minimum noise threshold the FAA established for schools to qualify for sound insulation.

“Talking to the teachers, it definitely impacts their ability to teach, especially with special-needs students,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a bit of a bigger challenge to get them back on track.”

Between 1982 and 2004, 92 schools received $220 million in sound insulation improvements, including new insulation and windows.

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