IRVING PARK — Chicago Public Schools approved funding that could finally bring a playground to a Northwest Side school where kids play on asphalt lots riddled with cracks and potholes.
The CPS board approved the $9.3-billion budget proposal last week. The 2021-2022 spending plan focuses in part on improving older schools using federal stimulus funding, district officials said.
The $706.5 million capital budget sets aside $16.4 million for “playground/play lot replacement” at 30 schools, including Scammon Elementary in Irving Park.
It’s unclear how much of that will be set aside for Scammon. Even though the playground looks to be moving forward, parents said they will keep pushing CPS to fix other problems that make the school unsafe for students, teachers and staff.
“Scammon has a strong academic program, but the campus does not reflect that,” parent Katy Schafer told board members at the meeting. “The neglect of the campus is harming Scammon students, teachers and staff. I want the teachers who work at Scammon and make it the school that it is to have a safe, warm and dry place to teach. I am worried that if they don’t, they will leave Scammon Elementary for a school that has been invested in by the district.”
Scammon, 4201 W. Henderson St., serves about 500 students from preschool through eighth grade. The majority of the school’s population is Hispanic and low-income, according to CPS data.
In addition to the playground, parents say the school needs a refurbished blacktop and either new mobile classrooms or an annex to address overcrowding. Tired of waiting for the district to act, parents even found a local nonprofit that could help them get an updated playground — but CPS refused to sign off on the agreement.
Last month, Scammon parents launched a Facebook group and a petition to galvanize community members.
Schafer told district board members she worries children could be injured while playing on the uneven blacktop. She’s grateful for the playground but argued the other issues at the campus, like deteriorated classroom trailers and a sewer catch basin that is sinking into the ground, should be priorities for the district.
“I am surprised that CPS has allowed the campus to fall into such disrepair. Families and staff at Scammon have been asking CPS to invest in the Scammon campus for decades,” Schafer said.
Eban Smith, CPS’s director of planning and design, said last month the district could begin designing and requesting bids for construction for the Scammon playground as soon as this winter if the funding were approved. The build out could be complete by fall 2022, he said.
The lack of campus maintenance isn’t unique to Scammon.
Also at last week’s meeting, Haugan Elementary teacher James O’Donnell said the Albany Park school badly needs a new roof, as the current one leaks and forces teachers and students to find other places in the building for classes. They also must replace the school’s rusted, outdated doors, which have chipping paint that make them “unwelcoming to our Haugan community.”
O’Donnell also said Haugan needs a new playground. Kids regularly get hurt during recess, and the lot’s sunken areas collect pools of water that freeze in the winter and become a slipping hazard, he said.
“If you come to visit Haugan, you will see broken asphalt surrounding the school,” O’Donnell said. “This asphalt was poured many years ago over dirt, and it has potholes, broken sections, deep cracks and large portions sunken in all over. Because of this, I can’t use our playground for P.E. class.”
Haugen is not one of the 30 schools slated to get updated playgrounds in the district’s budget.
Capital improvements for schools can take many years to come to fruition. The process of installing an outdoor campus shared by Albany Park Multicultural Academy, William G. Hibbard Elementary and Edison Regional Gifted Center — all in the 4900 block of North Sawyer Avenue — began in 2019.
After years of advocacy, navigating CPS and securing TIF funding, the redesigned campus is expected to be complete in time for the new school year.
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