NORTH LAWNDALE — Now that Chicago has begun preparing for the largest public school closure in American history, city officials met Friday to outline their transition efforts.
“All of the city’s agencies have placed the highest priority in keeping our children safe during the upcoming school transitions,” said Jadine Chou, chief of safety and security for Chicago Public Schools.
Chou spoke at the Homan Square Fieldhouse, 3559 W. Arthington St., in what she called the first of several weekly meetings.
CPS plans to offer Safe Passage routes to and from each so-called “welcoming school,” Chou said. The city has budgeted $7.7 million to hire 600 workers who will help kids walk to school safely.
These positions should be filled by July, Chou said, and finalized Safe Passage routes will be released in August. Police and CPS have met with parents to outline safety issues such as dangerous intersections, gang territory and abandoned buildings.
“Parents know the concerns unlike anyone else,” Chou said.
More than 100 school buildings will be renovated on a $220 million budget, said Erin Lavin Cabonargi, executive director of the Public Building Commission.
Cabonargi said she hopes to keep schools dry, secure and temperature-regulated. More than 2,000 classrooms will receive new air conditioners and electrical upgrades.
Dozens of schools can expect upgraded foodservice, renovated computer labs and new science labs. About 1,000 new computers will be installed, Cabonargi said, and more than 100 classrooms will be painted.
To date, all necessary geotechnical, environmental and site surveys have been completed. Upgrades will be implemented through August.
For their part, Chicago police have focused on community efforts.
“This is not just a police department issue,” Deputy Chief Steve Georgas said. “We need everyone to help — all the way down to the neighbors along these school routes.”
Georgas said district commanders and CAPS officers will handle safety plans for all schools in their areas — not just the welcoming schools. All initial surveys and site assessments have been completed.
The Chicago Department of Buildings has identified 478 vacant buildings along the proposed Safe Passage routes, Commissioner Michael Merchant said.
So far, the city addressed 272 of them. Some are slated for demolition, while others have been boarded up and secured. In several cases, legal proceedings have begun against negligent owners.
Merchant said his department is on schedule to handle the remaining 206 buildings by the end of summer.
Each city agency will continue to provide weekly updates, Chou said. She promised that agencies, parents and school staff are working together so that “every welcoming school this fall will have a customized, dedicated safety plan.”