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Residents Rip CPS' Rejection of Private School's Offer To Buy Vacant School

By Mauricio Peña | December 18, 2014 8:20am
 Roseland residents and community members back a private school's bid to takeover CPS school closed in 2013.
Roseland residents and community members back a private school's bid to takeover CPS school closed in 2013.
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Levois J of The Sixth Ward

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials have rejected two bids by groups seeking to buy a shuttered South Side school, a move that has angered a community group that wanted to see a private religious school move into the building.

Roseland Heights residents hoping to see Rescue Missionary Christian School, currently in Chatham, were disappointed to learn Wednesday that CPS decided to reopen the bidding for the vacant building that was once home to John G. Shedd Elementary School at 200 E. 99th St.

Residents are also upset the district  after first indicating that community approval was a required part of the bidding process  abruptly changed gears and told residents that their input would not be considered.

"All too often, CPS and the city make a big deal of keeping the community in mind when making decisions, and then when it counts, they ignore us," said Clevan Tucker Jr., president of the Roseland Heights Community Association, who declared: "It's time to start writing letters to the mayor."

In a statement, district officials said late Wednesday that they rejected the bids, which included one from the private school and one from an unnamed housing developer, because neither bid was high enough. The amounts of the bids were not disclosed.

CPS "has chosen not to accept the bids received during the solicitation process for the property located at 200 E. 99th St., due [to] the low amounts offered for the property," the statement said. "We will rebid this property, allowing community members and interested parties another opportunity to submit offers, just as we have done for several other properties included in our estate portfolio."

Complaints regarding the bidding process were filed with Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) after CPS initially accepted a bid from the housing developer on Dec. 4.

More than 20 people attended Beale's open house Monday to express dissatisfaction with CPS' handling of the bids for the elementary school.

"CPS officials told us we had to reach out to the alderman regarding the issue," Tucker said. "We wanted to let him know the Rescue Missionary Christian School has our support. We don't want a housing development to take over and get rid of the green space in the neighborhood."

Before Wednesday's announcement, Beale said he was investigating the situation. 

"I am working with CPS officials and the community to make sure this process was handled properly," Beale said in an email. "I appreciate the community's input and look forward to seeing that their concerns are fully addressed."

After John G. Shedd Elementary School closed years ago, Frank I. Bennett Elementary School, at 10115 S. Prairie Ave., had been using the building as a satellite branch until June 2013, when CPS closed 50 schools districtwide, officials said.

In August of that year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel created the Advisory Committee for School Repurposing and Community Development to require community input on the repurposing decisions for the 50 shuttered buildings.

Rescue Missionary Christian School officials felt the Shedd building was a perfect place to move permanently after renting its current space at 7956 S. King Drive for 27 years. 

Over the summer, principal Marilyn Keeter and other school officials contacted CPS' Department of Procurement to begin the bidding process.

"CPS informed us we had to have community support in our bid," Keeter said. "Once we learned that, we reached out to the Roseland Heights Community Association and have been in contact since June. We met with the board, we met with residents, we met with former teachers at Shedd. We wanted to get everyone on board with the school plans. They were happy that we reached out to them."

For Tucker and other community members, ushering another school into the former CPS building would preserve the building's academic legacy in the community as well as maintain the fields and other green space now used by families in the area.

"We met several times with them and they answered our many questions," he said. "Ultimately, we thought it would be a good fit for the neighborhood."

Rescue School officials later learned their bid was one of the two highest bids. After being asked by CPS whether they would could raise their bid, they did. School officials did not release the bid amount.

But on Dec. 4, Keeter said she was was told by CPS that they accepted a higher bid from the housing developer.

Keeter then contacted Tucker and the Roseland Heights Community Association to thank them for their support and let him know that CPS had accepted the higher bid.

"He was in disbelief," Keeter said of Tucker.

That's because the Roseland Heights Community Association was never contacted by the developers or any other bidders for the elementary school, Tucker said.

"The Rescue Missionary School was the only group that met with us," Tucker added. "We reached out to CPS to let them know that. We wanted more information from them about who the [higher] bidder was and what their plans were, but CPS wouldn't disclose that information."

In fact, Patricia Hernandez, an official with CPS' Department of Procurement, told the group that Shedd's sale wasn't technically part of those being repurposed in the June 2013 closings. Therefore, "soliciting community input is not required or incorporated into this process," a Dec. 9 email to the Roseland group states.

The email stated that the district was required by law to take the highest bidder.

"If that is true, why did they tell the Rescue Missionary School something different?" Tucker asked. "Why did they say they needed community approval?"

CPS officials did not address that in Wednesday's statement but said that the district did have the discretion to resolicit bids if necessary. They said, however, that community input will not be required in the process going forward.

Tucker and other members of the Roseland Height Community Association hope CPS consults them in the future and doesn't try to "push [the housing development] down our throats." He said he hopes the district reconsiders the Rescue Missionary School's bid.

"I hope they look into it," Tucker said. 

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