The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

What The Fight For Whittier Elementary's Fieldhouse Meant

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 27, 2013 8:20PM


“This had to happen," Ald. Danny Solis told DNAinfo on a Monday morning after being asked about the demolition of the fieldhouse at Whittier Elementary on Chicago's south side. The fieldhouse, dubbed La Casita by community members who staged three separate sit-ins to save the building—which was being used as a community center and library—was razed Aug. 17 after the city sent construction crews to begin demolition preparations the night before. To the surprise of absolutely no one who pays attention to Chicago politics, Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed with Solis, telling reporters in a press conference "I appreciate the emotional attachment people have to a building in that area, but it was unsafe."

While it's true the building was in need of repair, that's exactly what officials at CPS promised. A few hours after three demonstrators were arrested at the school, others presented documentation from the school district promising the fieldhouse would not be demolished. In 2010 and again in 2011, the city and school officials promised community members fighting to save La Casita their voice was heard, that they could continue to use the fieldhouse, that repairs would be paid for. In 2011, they were promised $564,000 in tax increment funding to make the repairs.

That money never materialized.

But, from what the mayor says, a new soccer field will go up. Emanuel told DNAinfo Chicago "Building up a new field, an Astroturf field, a new basketball court and a new playground that is safe for kids is exactly the right thing to do."

Astroturf is right. Solis told Chicago Tonight he knew the fieldhouse was coming down the night before demolition preparations began:

"Because of previous experiences with the group, the last one being when we tried to do some work in the school, to construct a room for a library and they had protested it, I knew that it wouldn’t be received well."

When asked for paperwork regarding the initial crew that showed up to clear the building, someone presented a document identifying the building owner as the Lansing Public School District. A CPS "safety and security" representative told demonstrators on Friday night they would be allowed a meeting, which Solis agreed to as well, but as they cried watching the wrecking crew Saturday morning, both the Alderman and the Mayor were reportedly on vacation.

It must be nice.

Angelica Cordova, mother of three Whittier students, described to Chicago Tonight what one of her daugher's felt she lost:

"She feels that at La Casita she was born again as a person. She felt a lot of frustrations as a woman, as a Latino person, and La Casita to her was a place of learning, a place to liberate herself."

Now, parents and community members are demanding answers from Solis, CPS and the City. Today after school lets out, they plan to hold a march from the gravel pit which was La Casita to Solis’ office. Afterwards, they plan to hold a community meeting to discuss the future, which includes demanding a new fieldhouse instead of a soccer field, at the Rudy Lozano Library, just down the street. Solis, along with school board officials and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett all have been given an invitation to attend. Whether or not they choose to acknowledge the demands of the community member’s is anyone’s guess.

The demolition at Whittier that took place wasn't just a building, it was the hopes of some community members that their leaders would actually listen to the will of the people. What was lost wasn't just a fieldhouse, but any sense for these people who put their hearts and souls into it that Chicago politics have the potential for transparency. What has to happen is not the demolition of a fieldhouse in the middle of the night. What has to happen is not simply parroting talking points blaming the pension crisis for the deficit. What has to happen is actually hearing demands of those speaking out, rather than simply saying "they had their chance to speak their minds." What has to happen is real engagement between CPS, City officials and those that know schools best—parents, teachers and students. An opportunity for that exists this evening.