Chicago communities ponder fate of empty schools

Schools closed by the district remain standing around Chicago as empty buildings, as communities figure out how to re-purpose them.
Several schools that were closed by the district remain standing as empty buildings.

Yale Elementary on the South Side is one of the closed schools. Its name is now covered up. The flag still flies overhead, but in a badly tattered state. Neighbors fear the building may wind up in the same condition.

"The way things are going nowadays, it's just gonna sit there and collect dust," said Anthony Smith, a resident and Yale Elementary alum.

Yale is among three dozen closed schools that the district is trying to re-purpose. Some of those schools, like Emmet on the West Side, are old and expensive to heat and maintain. Others, like the former Fiske Elementary which stands in the shadow of the University of Chicago, may have a future.

"It is ideally situated to create some great opportunities," said Ald. Willie Cochran of the 20th Ward about Fiskey.

Like Willie Cochran, all the aldermen with closed schools in their wards are trying to gauge what their constituents want. A proposal to turn Fiske into an alternative school does not hold Cochran's favor, but he sees other possibilities, including a senior center, housing, or early childhood education center.

"I'm very optimistic about the future of the building," said Cochran.

There is also a measure of optimism among school officials that many of the buildings will be sold or leased because of their locations.

"For some buildings, historic buildings in vibrant locations, those are not gonna be difficult," said Tom Tyrrell, CPS chief operating officer, of potential building sales.

There is interest in the former Trumbull Elementary on the North Side as the new home for a theater company, or perhaps condominiums with a grocery store. But all this is contingent on what communities want, and whether there are buyers. There has not been a buyer for the old Crispus Attucks building which has been sitting empty for six years. And if the more recently closed schools are still empty five years hence, they may have to come down.

"We just can't afford to let them sit as hazards in the community for that length of time," said Tyrrell.
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