WEST LOOP — Whitney Young Magnet High School is still restricting public access to its $4.3 million athletic complex, said a park advocate who wants the Mayor’s Office to intervene.
The prestigious public high school unveiled the facility — named after alumna and former first lady Michelle Obama — in 2019. Funded completely by tax-increment financing dollars, the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose field can host multiple sports, and the facility has a training area for track and field events, scoreboards, batting cages and more.
Officials hailed the complex as a facility for “everybody.” While students would have priority, it was to be open to the public — with the exception of the turf field, which would require a permit, former Principal Joyce Kenner said at the time.
May Toy, president of the Skinner Park Advisory Council, said she negotiated public use hours and rules with Kenner in 2019, and Toy relayed that information to neighbors.
Those public hours were to be 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, according to emails obtained by Block Club. Those hours could be limited during school programs, such as physical education classes, passing periods, new Principal Rickey Harris said.
But Toy said she’s been battling with the school for months to keep its end of the bargain. Block Club reported in June residents were arriving at the track during public-use hours only to find it padlocked.
Neighbors are still seeing the same problems, and the public-use hour signs were removed from the facility’s gates last week, Toy said.
Harris said it was a misunderstanding and the signs are being replaced.
“We are in the process of obtaining new signage with clearer public use hours. … We anticipate the new signage to be installed soon,” Harris said in an email. “We enjoy sharing the facility with the community and will continue to do so when it does not conflict with school programs.”
But Toy said the gates have been locked consistently for about two weeks.
“I don’t understand why they would take down the signs without having new ones in place,” Toy said. “I’ve seen people climbing over the fence, and I don’t think that’s a safe way to access the complex.”
Harris said he would talk to school staff about the track being locked during public-use hours.
“I will speak to our team and ask that the complex be unlocked and opened outside of the aforementioned instances,” Harris said.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said earlier this year he called the Chicago Board of Education with Toy and was told that the problem was going to be taken care of.
“I thought it was taken care of, but it appears that this is still going on,” Burnett said.
The West Loop alderman has backed Toy, saying he thinks Whitney Young should maintain its agreement with the community and provide public access to its track.
Toy brought up the access issues at Whitney Young in an Oct. 31 meeting with the Mayor’s Office and Burnett, and she hopes the city will step in, she said.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to request for comment.
“I think that the bigger picture is that if something is supposed to be committed to the community, which the Board of Education did, they have to keep their commitments,” Burnett said.
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