have read the Report of the Advisory Committee for School Repurposing and
Community Development. Overall, the report was well-written, thorough and addressed a number of community development issues that pre-date the closing of 50 public schools in Chicago. The report also lays out an excellent blue print going forward with the
disposition of the buildings. Our comments regarding the proposed process and
how it may be strengthened are outlined below.
The Committee recommends the following: 1) a three-phase repurposing process that
reflects a set of guiding principles; (2) community engagement that is
authentic, fully informed, and influential; and (3) a dedicated fund, equal to
the value of proceeds from the sale of a small number of properties at market
rates, to support the process, facilitate projects with high community value,
and provide technical assistance to community-based organizations that propose
to undertake redevelopment.
The Committee proposes an authentic, fully informed and influential community
engagement, and we agree that this is the best approach. However, it should be
noted that while 17% of CPS schools are on Chicago’s West Side, yet, we have
absorbed 47% of the school closings in 2013. In spite of us being “ground
zero” for school closings, there was not one representative from the West
Side on this Advisory Committee. The meetings were kept from public view and there
were no opportunities for the public to voice concern or shape the process of
developing the report. It is our sincerest hope that true community
engagement and respect of our ideas and culture are taken into account.
The Advisory Committee for School Repurposing recommends that all requests should
be reviewed by a 6-person committee that includes experts in real estate,
development, social services, finance, and lending, and members of the CPS
staff. Specific expertise includes community and neighborhood planning, community benefit, job creation, economic development, project implementation or community engagement. This advisory group would work with CPS staff members to create criteria for proposals and advise on the community process.
Twenty-one wards representing many more neighborhoods were impacted by school closures. There should be a group like this in every impacted community or region (7-10 regions, depending on geographic efficiency), reporting to this group, which would
coordinate all the plans around the city of Chicago. The regions should be identified by community, rather than number. (The example below depicts regions by number in the interest of time.) A single centralized group will take much longer to understand the local community dynamics of each impacted community. Also, there should be more room
on this committee for engaged parents, educators and local residents, who have a huge stake in this process. The selection process should be open to all interested parties, and coordinated by the Advisory Committee for School Repurposing, with a clear set of criteria and objective selection process.
The Committee acknowledges that some of the properties may need to be demolished.
This is disheartening, given that most of the buildings had substantial capital improvements before they closed. Capital investments are typically funded through bond proceeds which could take as long as 30 years to repay. It is very possible that tax payers could be paying for improvements on buildings long after they have been demolished.
The report calls for intermediate re-uses. If CPS was going to have intermediate re-uses, the buildings should have remained open as schools while the planning was in place. North Lawndale already had over 1,700 vacant properties before the schools were closed. To add
5 vacant schools to this inventory is unconscionable.
William H.King Elementary School – The City of Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management is working to consolidate functions at several leased locations, and
has identified King School as a location that will support those functions in
the most cost-effective manner. Apparently, the Mayor values the City’s fleet more than the children who formerly attended the school.
We understand that a number of the buildings may very well be used by charter schools. We respectfully request that CPS consider using some of the buildings as traditional public schools. We are particularly concerned with the building formerly occupied by the Pope School. The Pope School had a solid tradition and very active alumni network. Before the school closed, it had a number of community resources housed in the school to provide supportive services to the students. It was also on an upward trajectory in terms of school performance, and children did just as well, or better, on nationally-normed tests than on
the ISAT. The ISAT is being phased out in favor of nationally-normed tests.
If the former Pope School is ultimately used by a charter school, we would have a situation in which every school in and around Douglas Park, including Collins High School, Johnson School of Excellence and Chalmers, would be controlled by private interests. This would send a very negative message to the surrounding community.
Benefit to Community
Proposals must provide a benefit to the community, such as employment opportunities, health care, housing, access to fresh produce, etc. We recommend that, in addition to
requiring proposers to enter into redevelopment agreements, they be
required to enter into as legally binding community benefit agreements to
ensure, among other things, that residents have opportunities to participate in
employment opportunities and other community and economic benefits of the
project. Community benefits agreements should require mutual accountability
from the community, CPS and developers.
Phase Three: Development through a Revitalization Partner
This phase is designed to help CPS deal with properties where a community or financial benefit is not readily available or apparent, including properties in areas without a community plan or strong local agreement on a vision for reuse. This would also be the period when community groups or other entities that have a nascent vision, but require time
or assistance to put together a viable proposal, receive the technical assistance they need.
CPS should engage an entity whose core business is real estate planning and community redevelopment for this phase. In order to ensure that this happens in a timely manner, CPS should immediately start the process of identifying a Revitalization Partner, so that properties remaining after the Competitive Deployment phase can be immediately referred for planning their reuse. CPS should consider land management agencies and real estate
professionals specializing in the reuse of large-scale, public-sector properties. With the counsel of the advisory committee, CPS should solicit and recommend to the Board of Education an entity (or team) to take on this work.
It would be helpful to disclose how much, if any, money has been budgeted for this purpose, and the sources of the funding. It would also be helpful to provide a ball park estimate of the costs and benefits of this approach, including how much tax payers may or may not save going through this approach as opposed to keeping the buildings open as schools.
Community Engagement and Assistance
The Advisory Committee expects that the Revitalization Partner may need to seek
additional technical assistance, community planning, and potentially philanthropic help during this stage to facilitate a more comprehensive community outreach and planning process. The Advisory Committee effectively recommended the following entities for technical assistance with re-use planning.
Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois
BauerLatoza Studio, an architecture firm with an emphasis on
preservation and sustainable design (as an added resource, the firm has
launched a Chicago Historic Schools website:
Urban Land Institute Chicago
Metropolitan Planning Council
The list should also include CMAP, who has a Local Technical Assistance Program for communities wishing to engage in a community planning process. CMAP has initiated 126 local projects with local governments, nonprofits, and intergovernmental organizations to address local issues at the intersection of transportation, land use, and housing, including the natural environment, economic growth, and community development. The application process begins in May. You may find out more about the program here. http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/programs-and-resources/lta/
Finance Resource Guide
The Finance Resource Guide provides a great outline of the financing process for various development scenarios. We recommend that you also include a description of New Market Tax Credits and institutions that provide them.
In closing, we thank you for your consideration, and look forward to any response you may have concerning our comments.
Co-Founder, Lawndale Alliance
Repurposing Committee Report by valeriefleonard
Comments on School Repurposing Report by valeriefleonard