Updated 09/16/13 – 11 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A surprise announcement of plans to build a new school on the Far Southeast Side has raised questions from parents and the Chicago Teachers Union, despite their relief at an effort to ease overcrowding at the area’s existing schools
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the plans for a new school at 104th Street and Indianapolis Avenue on Sunday night, at Gallistel Elementary Language Academy, 10347 S. Ewing Ave.
Gallistel and Jane Addams Elementary School, 10810 S. Avenue H, both have been well over capacity for two decades, to the point both are at double capacity, according to Emanuel.
“We will be building – for the first time ever – a totally new school for the community,” Emanuel said. “So to all of you that have been advocating this for years, this is your day; take pride in it, because we will be back to open that new school. Congratulations.”
However, the announcement has raised concerns about the timing of the decision, as well as the safety of the chosen site for the new school.
The Chicago Public Schools closed 47 elementary schools this summer – due to low enrollment in other parts of the city – and will close at least two more over the next two years.
Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse said the mayor’s announcement sent mixed messages
“We just got told that they had to close … about 50 schools, because there wasn’t enough money, and now we turn around and they’re back building schools. So what gives?” Sharkey said.
Wendy Katten, director of the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand, said CPS should make sure it is distributing resources evenly across the district.
“If there is money for one school, there should be money to restore the budgets that were just slashed,” Katten said.
CTU and Raise Your Hand said they support the new school for the East Side, but questioned the process used by the Emanuel administration.
Parents in the East Side neighborhood also expressed concerns that the site at 104th and Indianapolis once housed underground gasoline storage tanks, at least one of which had been leaking. The Chicago Tribune reports environmental testing of the property also found unsafe levels of benzene – which can cause cancer and other illnesses, including heart failure, liver and kidney damage, and brain damage. City officials said the environmental and health hazards would be cleaned up and comply with EPA regulations.
Parents and teachers at Gallistel and Jane Addams said they’re happy to see relief for overcrowding, but expressed concerns other problems at the two existing schools would be left unaddressed.
“We don’t have plug-ins, to plug in technology,” Gallistel teacher Andrea Porth said. “We don’t’ have working water fountains. We don’t have air conditioning.”
Gallistel parent Elena Rios said, “There was water coming down from the roof, onto the light fixture, and our kids are studying in there.”
She said it would be unfair for CPS to build a new school for some students at Gallistel and Jane Addams without fixing the problems at the existing schools, as well.
The mayor’s office said in an email that renovations are also planned for both schools.
“It doesn’t matter if they take them somewhere else. You still have a facility here that is not in compliance to teach a child. That’s what’s unfair,” she said. “Money is always talked about for new schools. What about the existing schools that are achieving?”
The new school will cost $35 million, the mayor’s office said.
Emanuel did not take questions after his announcement.
Officials said the new school will open in the fall of 2016.