HERMOSA — Crews are rebuilding Nixon Elementary’s playground, which was destroyed last year in an arson.
Construction is underway on a $295,000 rehab of the school playground, funded by Chicago Public Schools. The work is expected to wrap up in time for the 2022-23 school year, CPS spokesman Evan Moore said.
Nixon’s playground at 2121 N. Keeler Ave. — a play area students loved and parents fought to build — was ravaged in November in a fire that authorities think was set intentionally.
No one was hurt in the blaze, but the playground was left unusable. An investigation is ongoing, police spokeswoman Michelle Tannehill said Tuesday.
The Nixon school community has worked with district officials and community leaders to rebuild the playground, which was only three years old when it was destroyed and served the broader Hermosa community.
Nixon Elementary enrolls mostly low-income Latino students, according to CPS.
“It’s very difficult … to get these sorts of things in disadvantaged communities. It’s really sad to take that away from the children and from the community,” Colin Bird-Martinez, a former member of the school’s local school council, said after the fire.
The construction project kicked off this summer after delays caused by supply chain disruptions, said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes Nixon Elementary.
On Tuesday, the playground was a fenced-off construction zone, with some equipment in place.
Local school council President Briceyra Zermeno said she’s disappointed by how long the project has taken, though she’s glad the playground is being replaced and the district is footing the bill.
“When we had the money, we did it really quickly,” Zermeno said.
Zermeno was among a group of parents and community leaders who fought to replace the school’s original, 30-year-old playground in 2018 over safety concerns.
They launched a campaign after years of kids “slicing open legs and arms” on the playground’s dangerous equipment, raising $220,000 in donations and bringing on financial partners KaBOOM!, Investor Foresters Financial and Ramirez-Rosa to fill the gap.
“There [were] a lot of doors closed, so we kept knocking,” parent Maria del Rosario Cumes said in 2018.
The arson — captured on video — was especially devastating after how much effort went into rebuilding the playground in 2018, parents said.
“When this happened, I cried because it’s not fair. We were working too hard for this playground,” Zermeno said.
In addition to a playground, Nixon also is getting a new basketball court, running track and a new fence for security thanks to Ramirez-Rosa’s office and Allstate Insurance.
Ramirez-Rosa said he’s putting $200,000 in aldermanic menu funds toward the upgrades and Allstate is matching that amount.
The project should be complete by August or September, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“It was such a tragedy after the community had gone through such a great effort that [the playground] was lost to a fire,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “It became really important for us to make sure that it was not just fully restored, but that the students of Nixon got something that was even better than what was lost.”
Ramirez-Rosa’s office also recently paid for a city surveillance camera near the playground to deter crime.
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