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Plan to use vacant South Shore H.S. for police, fire training appears to stall

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to use the vacant South Shore High School as a training facility for Chicago firefighters and police officers. | Google Streetview

A plan signed in October that paved the way for a shuttered South Side school to be turned into a police and fire training facility is likely to stall in City Council.

South Shore High School was closed in 2014. On Oct. 22, the Board of Education leased the building to the city for use as a training facility by the police and fire departments, according to city records.

The lease runs through September 2028, but requires City Council approval to continue beyond the first 180 days. That deadline is April 20.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on March 13 asked the council for that approval. The request was referred to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate and had been on the committee’s agenda for its next meeting on Tuesday. But outgoing Ald. Joseph Moore (49th), chairman of the Housing Committee, said Friday that Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) — the high school is in her ward — asked Moore to hold the ordinance in committee at least until the new City Council is seated.

That means the lease won’t be OK’d by the April 20 deadline. The city now is likely to terminate the lease; under the agreement, there’s no penalty as long as the Board of Education gets 10 days’ notice.

Representatives for the mayor’s office and Chicago Public Schools had no immediate comment Friday evening. Harris could not be reached for comment.

Despite its imminent demise, the lease was a significant step for a city still dealing with 12 shuttered schools, down from 38 after other sales and leases.

The $1-per-year lease covers the 150,000-square-foot, three-story school building at 7626 S. Constance Ave., as well as its parking lot.

The topic of police training facilities has been a tricky one for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.

She has said she opposed a proposal for a massive new $95 million police and fire training academy on the West Side; it would be built on vacant land at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. That proposal passed the council on March 13 by a vote of 38 to 8; Lightfoot had said she would have preferred the Council wait until a new mayor took office to approve the deal.

In recent weeks, Lightfoot has suggested smaller-scale solutions, such as turning vacant schools into training facilities, in place of the new academy. Her comments irked the young, progressive activists who organized on social media around the #NoCopAcademy hashtag and, with the support of Chance the Rapper, tried but failed to stop the council from approving the new training academy. They said $95 million would be better spent invested in underserved neighborhoods.

“We have 38 schools that are massive that are sitting on the city [tax] rolls,” Lightfoot said in February. “We have lots of abandoned property in neighborhoods that absolutely need economic development. There’s lots of things we can think of to re-purpose existing land and property.”

Lightfoot has since attempted to clarify her position, saying two days later on the Ben Joravsky Show that she opposes the academy and the re-purposing of schools without some discussion.

“We were talking hypothetically about what do you do to make sure the police officers are well-trained,” Lightfoot said. “Nothing will happen on my watch, and certainly not the re-purposing of those 38 schools that remain on CPS’s ledger, without going into the community and talking to people about how we can turn those schools into their assets.”

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