Pilsen school parents protest for 6th day

September 20, 2010 (CHICAGO)

As the Southwest Side battle over the scheduled demolition of the field house moved into another day, members of the Pilsen community and parents, like Araceli Gonzalez, refused to give up their fight.

"We're not asking for a luxury, we are asking for a need. The school doesn't have a library. We need a library," said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, whose 5th grade daughter attends the neighborhood school, has occupied the structure since Wednesday with around three dozen others in hopes of lobbying for the run down building to be renovated into a library and not torn down.

"We offer a lot of things in the field house that can't be duplicated somewhere else. It is a community space," said Michelle Palencia, parent.

With peeling paint and an old roof, Chicago Public School officials say an engineer they hired says the building isn't safe and must come down. In a statement, a spokesperson adds, "with the budgetary constraints we are under, nothing is going to happen."

The plan is to replace it with an athletic field.

But the protesters say they hired their own engineer who came to a different conclusion and want the $354,000 allocated for the demolition to be used to salvage it.

"He wants the house demolished, to give it to a high school for an athletic field and we're saying get your priorities straight. We need a library," said Gema Gaete, community activist.

Those protesting are also accusing 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis of turning his back on residents after parents say he promised to support efforts to upgrade and expand Whittier using tax increment funds (TIF) after the Benito Juarez High School renovation. They say so far only 5 percent of the estimated TIF funds have been made available.

"The Benito Juarez expansion just got completed in September of this year. And the TIF has to be replenished as far as funding," said Vince Sanchez, Solis' chief of staff.

The demolition of the field house was scheduled for this fall but has been slowed because of pending permits.

The parents say they will continue to protest until they get a written statement that CPS will not demolish the field house.

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