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South Chicago, East Side

Southeast Siders Demand New School Buildings After Ceiling Partially Collapses, Injures Security Guard After Major Storm

George Washington High School teachers, parents and students say their school has been poorly maintained for years before a metal beam fell from the ceiling the day after a tornado watch.

A metal beam fell from the ceiling on George Washington high School's early last week. Community members are now asking CPS and the district to build new green school building in the 10th Ward.
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EAST SIDE — Southeast Side community members are urging Chicago Public Schools to take action after pieces of a high school’s ceiling collapsed following fierce winds and heavy rain swept through the Chicago area last week.

George Washington High School teachers, parents and former students and members of the Southeast Environmental Task Force said Tuesday a metal beam from the building’s ceiling fell in a hallway on the school’s second floor the morning after the storm. Teachers and students were in the building, 3535 E. 114th St., when the collapse occurred and said a school security guard struck by the debris was hospitalized.

Social science teacher Donald Davis created an online petition asking CPS to a build new green, carbon-neutral high school and elementary school on the Southeast Side. It has nearly 1,700 signatures. 

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The ceiling on the second floor of George Washington High School show missing pieces after a partial collapse last week.

In the petition, Davis lamented multimillion-dollar investments into schools like Jones College Prep in South Loop and newly opened John Hancock College Prep on the Southwest Side while George Washington elementary and high schools need “updated ventilation, working windows, new tiles, faucets not containing lead, and an environment to overcome the higher rates of asthma on the Southeast Side.”

“Education is a right and that alone should be the reason that both the quality of education and the quality of buildings should be equal in every school in Chicago,” community organizer Oscar Sanchez said at a press conference Tuesday. “They’re spending eight hours a day for nine months. What does it say when one of the only safe spaces for youth isn’t safe?”

Others at the press conference called the building’s conditions “dehumanizing.”

“What we observed on Tuesday was indicative of a system that doesn’t care for the community that goes to Washington High School,” said Brian Lampert, a teacher and local school council member.

CPS spokesperson Evan Moore said the district is working to address the building’s issues. 

“Improving school facilities and addressing pressing issues in our buildings is a District priority. We are committed to working with the respective school communities to determine the best course of action to address issues and make repairs. The District strives to provide timely updates to our CPS families and keep them informed about all serious incidents,” Moore said in a statement. 

Several said George Washington elementary and high schools have been poorly maintained for years.

Arianna Farias, a security guard and swim coach at the high school, said there were similar issues with pieces of the ceiling falling in 2020. Parent Nelly Martinez said the ceiling has routinely leaked for years, to the point where students call it “ceiling juice.”

People also complained of asbestos, a lack of a central air due to an outdated HVAC system and potentially contaminated water.

“I’m mad that my daughter has to go to school and … I have to worry about a beam falling on her head, or I have to worry about the leak from the building and being caught by a bucket in the middle of a hallway,” Martinez said. “That is not a learning environment.”

Davis said CPS previously provided funding for building improvements but said these were insufficient “Band-Aids.”

“Some of these bigger issues can’t be addressed by just spending a little bit of money on it,” Davis said. “I want to see CPS live up to its promise of investing in our communities, and our community schools. That’s why I feel very strongly about this, and I’m putting my job on the line to advocate for all this because we deserve the same facilities that exist around the city of Chicago and other Chicago public schools.”

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Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

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