LA CASITA IS NO MORE. By a little after ten o'clock in the morning, Board of Education contractors had leveled the library that had been created by the demands of a community that did not have one in a city where more than 150 of the public schools do not have libraries.
report by Kati Glison
PICS are from various Facebook postings this morning
By 9:30 a.m. on August 17, 2013, contractors supposedly hired by Chicago Public Schools had begun using a back hoe to crunch away at the structure called "La Casita", the "Little House" located on the property of Chicago's Whittier Elementary School in the 1900 block of W. 23rd St. in Chicago.
A crew demolishes the Whittier Elementary School field house in Pilsen on Saturday. Protestors slept outside the school overnight in an attempt to prevent the tear down of the building. (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune / August 14, 2013)
"If they were telling the truth about the asbestos danger that was the pretext for evacuating the building last night, then they are creating a danger for the entire community," a retired teacher who had witnessed asbestos removal at a Chicago high school decades ago told Substance.
But as more than 40 protesters lined up to try and block the heavy equipment that had been brought in for the job, it appeared in mid-morning that the destruction of the building was going to move forward without regard for the health and safety of those in the community or the workers who were ordered to operate the equipment that was about to destroy the iconic building and ends its time as a symbol of community literacy and the desire for better education for the city's poorest children.
Meanwhile, police had pushed many of the protesters away from the La Casita building itself, locking most outside the school's gates. The result was that many people who wanted to try and block the equipment brought in to destroy the library that had been developed with popular support from across the country before a popular response could be mounted. By ten o'clock in the morning, the people at the site were calling and texting widely asking as many of their friends and acquaintances as possible to get to the site to protect the building before CPS officials had it destroyed.
Construction workers who were manning the equipment had not been told that the building had been evacuated the night before, supposedly because of "asbestos" contamination.
In fact, that was the official CPS explanation for the supposed emergency.
In a communication with the local alderman, Danny Solis, CPS Communications chief Becky Carroll had told the local elected official that the reasons CPS was moving to evacuate the building on the night of August 16 were: the building had dangerous asbestos and that the roof was weak.
On August 16, activists in the community shared with Substance an email they said they had received from the alderman:
SOLIS SUPPOSEDLY WROTE:
Below is the info I've received from CPS regarding the Whittier Field House. I will join Whittier reps and CPS for a meeting tomorrow to address this issue.
Among the District’s top priorities is ensuring that our students have access to a safe and nurturing learning environment The Field House at Whittier Elementary School has been deemed unsafe for occupancy over the last three years due to its advance state of deterioration and threat of the roof caving in. To protect the health and safety of our school community, CPS must take immediate action before students and staff return for the start of the school year on August 26. After the removal of this unsafe facility, CPS will replace it with a state of the art playground, artificial turf field and two basketball courts that students and members of the Whittier community can enjoy. (Becky Carroll, Chicago Public Schools)
BACKGROUND: CPS has been in ongoing communication for nearly three years with the Whittier school community and the Whittier Parent Committee (WPC) to resolve the issues surrounding the Field House. CPS has had approximately 7 formal meetings with the WPC since fall 2010 to try and reach a resolution for Field House that keeps children and the community safe.
In fall 2010, the WPC committed to providing the necessary repairs to the Field House, sign a $1 lease agreement in order to start that work and identify funds for those repairs.
After multiple follow up meetings, in August 2012 CPS provided documentation to the WPC on how to bring the Field House up to safety code per its agreement with CPS. Since that time, the WPC has not taken any steps to bring the building up to code, raise funds needed for repairs or signed the $1 lease agreement. Perry and Associates, a licensed structural engineering firm has conducted three inspections of the Field House finding it to be in “a very advanced state of deterioration” and “not safe for occupancy”. They also found that the roof deck has “rotted all the way through” and “roofing shows evidence of delamination for the structure”.
On top of the building being deemed unsafe by licensed structural engineers, CPS has received multiple complaints from the community regarding the safety of the Field House.
Based on the findings of Perry & Associates, multiple neighborhood complaints and clear visual evidence of deterioration, CPS has decided to move forward with demolishing the Field House and re-purposing the area at Whittier for a new playground, an artificial turf field and two basketball courts that can be utilized by all the students in the community safely. This work will be completed by December 2013.
Currently, the Field House is utilized by members of the WPC, but the building has been deemed unsafe for occupancy.