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Mayor Taps Committee to Study Uses for Closed Schools

By Wendell Hutson | August 22, 2013 11:21pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel has created an advisory committee to make recomendations on how best to use closed school buildings. 
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has created an advisory committee to make recomendations on how best to use closed school buildings.  
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOWNTOWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has commissioned a new advisory committee to make recommendations on what to do with the 50 underutilized schools that closed this year.

The 13-member Advisory Committee for School Repurposing and Community Development will hold its first meeting shortly after the Labor Day holiday and begin devising a plan on how to evaluate the shuttered buildings, said Wilbur Millhouse, founder, president and CEO of Millhouse Engineering & Construction Inc., who is the committee's chair.

"There's a lot that needs to be done first before we can recommend what to do with these buildings," Millhouse told DNAinfo Chicago. "But whatever uses are decided on, it must be a revenue-generating development that could be sustainable for years to come."

Among the things the committee will do are to look at the building's physical condition and financial assessments; demographic and economic trends for the surrounding community; maps of nearby, abandoned buildings, and review crime incidents.

Previously, Chicago Public Schools officials said the closed buildings could be sold.

Shirley Calahan is a committee member and said community centers and shelters would be ideal for shuttered schools in Englewood.

"There are all sorts of community needs for Englewood, but shelters, social service agencies and community centers are what comes to my mind," said Calahan, vice president of Calahan Funeral Home in Englewood. "A lot of children come from dysfunctional homes and it causes them to misbehave and perform poorly in school. That is why a social service center would be a good fit for some of these school buildings."

In a statement, Emanuel said he created the committee to ensure that the buildings are put to good use on behalf of the community.

“The city of Chicago has an opportunity to use these facilities to revitalize our economy in key areas and expand opportunity for Chicagoans in our neighborhoods,” said the mayor. “I look forward to reviewing the recommendations after the committee’s careful consideration of what is best for our future.”

And community engagement will be critical during this process, said Millhouse.

"We want to hear from the community to find out what they would like to see the buildings redeveloped into," added Millhouse. "There's no sense in selling a building to a developer who plans on developing the building into something the community does not want."

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), whose ward includes Auburn Gresham, said she is more concerned about the safe passage route students who previously attended John Altgeld Elementary School must now use to attend Daniel Wentworth Elementary in light of the school closing this year.

"They (Altgeld students) must travel through three gang territories to reach Wentworth. That has me concerned for their safety," said Thomas, who also chairs the City Council's Education Committee.

The other committee members are Andy Mooney, Department of Housing and Economic Development; Ricardo Estrada, Metropolitan Family Services; Jim Capraro, former director of Greater Southwest Development Corp; Linda Goodman, Goodman Williams Group; Tom Tyrell, Chicago Public Schools; Raul Raymundo, Resurrection Project; Susanna Vasquez, Local Initiatives Support Corporation; Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation; Bernita Johnson, executive director, Quad Community Development Corp; and Ald. Rey Colon (35th).