CHICAGO (WBBM) – The sit-in continues, and a makeshift library has opened in the fieldhouse that Chicago Public Schools officials want to tear down at Pilsen’s Whittier Elementary School.
About three dozen children tore a blue-and-yellow crepe ribbon strung outside the aging fieldhouse, on the 1900 block of West 23rd Street and immediately began to look through the makeshift shelves.
Inside they found books in English and in Spanish, in keeping with instruction at Whittier, which is a dual-language school.
Dominican author Rey Andujar spoke with the children and urged them to “love their books.” “A book is a friend,” he said. “So now you have a lot of little friends here.”
Parent Lisa Angones estimated that the library has more than 1,000 books, and activist Gema Gaete said that books continue to arrive from as far away as Tucson and from New Orleans, where she said a book drive has been organized.
Angones said that the children need the library in order to learn, and the parents need it for peace of mind.
“The kids really need a place to open a book, and read a book,” she said. “School is stressful at time for the kids. They need an escape, instead of going out and getting in trouble.”
Angones said that parents would continue their sit-in and act as volunteer librarians. She said the parents have received assistance in setting up the library from several professional librarians.
Books continue to arrive from as far away as New Orleans and Tucson. Public Schools officials have said repeatedly that the building is unsafe and have said that they are awaiting a demolition permit for the one-story building. The Board of Education has earmarked $356,000 for its demolition. Gaete said that an independent assessment of the building’s condition, financed by the parents, shows that the seam roof is in poor condition, particularly in the northeast corner of the building, but concluded that repairs could be made for less than $25,000.
Ultimately, the parents would like an addition built onto Whittier, which was completed in 1895. But Angones said the money earmarked for demolition could help build a good library collection.
Oh, my goodness,” she said. “Could you imagine what we could do with $356,000? If the roof costs $20,000 to $25,000 to repair, we could provide the books for the children. The possibilities are great.”