IRVING PARK — After years of pushing for upgrades to their dilapidated campus, Scammon Elementary parents and leaders worry Chicago Public Schools is stalling the long-delayed projects.
The district approved $16.4 million in this year’s budget for “playground/play lot replacement” at 30 schools, including Scammon Elementary, 4201 W. Henderson St. Students at the Northwest Side school have no designated playground, and they play on asphalt lots rife with cracks and holes.
Parents tried getting the work done on their own — at one point partnering with a suburban nonprofit to secure the funding — but many thought the CPS funding would finally make the new play area and mobile classrooms a reality.
But parents say the district has shared few details so far. They fear the overhauls are already behind schedule.
“At this point, I think I’m a little more concerned,” Principal Christos Liberos said at a school council meeting this week. “There has to be more urgency here. We need concrete numbers, concrete plans. Let’s just move forward.”
“Everything seems to be a lot of talk behind closed doors, and the people affected don’t get any answers,” school council Chair Marta Wray said. “It would be very disheartening if this was delayed. I think that’s what we’re all trying to avoid because of the history.”
In a statement after this story was published, CPS spokesperson Evan Moore said the plan is still to start construction next summer and have a groundbreaking in Fall 2022.
“Chicago Public Schools strives to ensure students have access to high-quality facilities,” Moore said. “The District is aware of the concerns raised by the school community and we remain committed to continued engagement.”
Eban Smith, CPS’ director of planning and design, previously told parents the district could begin designing the playground and soliciting construction bids by this winter.
In September, CPS told Block Club that timeline depended on securing an architect for the work. Agustin Gomez-Leal, of Wallin-Gomez Architects, has been contracted as of this month, according to district emails reviewed by Block Club.
Since then, communication around the projects has been confusing and inconsistent, Liberos and parents said.
The defunct deal to work with Dream Build Play to build the playground seems to be back on the table. Margaret Chaidez, co-founder and project manager of the nonprofit, said the district is reviewing how her organization’s corporate partner, BCI Burke, could provide a matching grant for the playground.
“In order to do the grant, we would need CPS to approve [BCI Burke] as an approved vendor. Then we’d work with capital planning to help design the playground for the space available,” Chaidez said.
But that agreement isn’t final. District emails show talks about CPS partnering with the nonprofit have been complicated by the appointment of Pedro Martinez as the district’s CEO in September.
“We are aware of the donation request from Dream Build Play,” Jamel Chambers, CPS project coordinator for intergovernmental affairs, wrote to a Scammon school council member this month. “There are some internal conversations that need to be had regarding our policies and procedures. Please just allow us a bit more time to discuss this internally, and we will circle back.”
CPS officials later said the plan has been modified from having Dream Build Play do the work, to having the equipment donated.
A week ago, the district shared plans for new mobile classrooms which would have been 30 feet longer and 15 feet wider than the current ones. They also would have an atrium connecting them, Liberos said.
But on Monday, district officials told Liberos those plans had been scrapped for new trailers the same size as the ones currently there without an atrium. Liberos was told the change was due to financing and the district had “jumped the gun” in sharing the previous plans.
Liberos also said the district has not shared an estimated budget for the trailers.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Democrat who represents the area, has tried to reassure school leaders the money is coming.
Guzzardi told the council on Monday that CPS confirmed to him the funding for the teardown and construction of trailers would come entirely from the district’s capital budget. Another $50,000 also has been set aside for Scammon in the state’s capital budget, and school leaders could decide where to put that money if it is allocated, Guzzardi said.
Guzzardi said he spoke to a CPS “government affairs liaison” who told him the district was set to speak to the city’s law department this week about Dream Build Play’s grant-matching offer, he said.
“They just want to make sure that this sort of grant matching is all hunky dory on the legal side,” Guzzardi said. “I know it’s annoying. This is just the way government moves sometimes, a little bit cautiously and deliberately. But my sense from my conversation with CPS is that certainly the playground project is locked and loaded and ready to happen.”
Parents said they appreciated the information but would prefer it if CPS were more transparent about where things stand.
Katy Schafer, a council member, said she is frustrated district officials she’s contacted still don’t seem to have much information or urgency in addressing issues parents identified at the campus since at least 2018.
“Who at CPS could [a school council] representative be emailing just to make sure that this keeps moving along? Because I’m feeling very frustrated,” Schafer said. “And I just started this fight. There are people who have been fighting for this for years.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: