Whittier field house demolished despite community protests

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Crews demolished a disputed Chicago field house as angry protesters tried to stop them.

A bobcat began tearing down the community field house Saturday afternoon, but a group of parents and community activists ran in front of it and chased it away. People then surrounded the building, known in the Pilsen neighborhood as “La Casita”.  Chicago Police were called in and the protest became heated. Several people were arrested, and those who wouldn’t budge had to be physically removed.

Throughout the day, cranes finished the demolition. Many fought back tears as they watched the crews work.

“The field house has been here for a long time. People here really love it. I don’t think it’s right to tear it down,” one parent said.

It was determined the field house, which also served as a library for Whittier Elementary School, wasn’t safe for occupancy. Two previous CPS chiefs, Ron Huberman and Jean-Claude Brizard, had promised to bring the building up to code, but that never happened.  It will now be replaced with a soccer field, basketball court and a playground for a neighboring private school.

“It shows you how CPS doesn’t care about kids in this neighborhood,” said community activist Nick Mann.

Parents and organizers complained that CPS gave no warning about the demolition.

According to CPS, parents declined an offer to have a face-to-face meeting Saturday morning. Activists said they would meet, but the meeting would have to be at the field house, as they didn’t want to leave the building because they were concerned it would be torn down while they were away.

The protests, and a late afternoon vigil were unsuccessful. The community center was torn down by 5 p.m.

Activists are also frustrated with Alderman Danny Solis who did not attend a planned meeting with CPS at Benito Juarez Academy.

“He’s been giving us so many different stories. We want him to come out of hiding to face us and to listen to the demands of the community,” said community activist Lisa Angonese.

Alderman Solis released a statement saying that the community center was deteriorated and unsafe and needed to be torn down.  He said he’s willing to work with the community on improvements to the school.

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