Advocates call on CPS to use schools as cooling centers amid scorching Chicago heat

Heat-related injuries and deaths have been top of mind for many Chicagoans as the city reached 100-degree temperatures for the second consecutive week.

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A “paletero” or ice cream vendor walks around Montrose Beach as temperatures rise to 95 degrees last week in Chicago. The National Weather Service maintained an excessive heat warning in the city.

An ice cream vendor walks around Montrose Beach.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

As Chicago continues to face scorching temperatures early this summer, activists are calling on officials to use public school buildings as cooling centers to supplement the city’s existing six sites.

Heat-related injuries and deaths have been top of mind for many Chicagoans as the city reached 100-degree temperatures for the second consecutive week — and after a May tragedy in which three women died during a heat wave.

Activists with the People’s Response Network, a group of parents and former public health officials who organized around COVID-19 policy advocacy, urged the city last week to open schools for those seeking refuge from the heat.

“We haven’t learned anything from the 1995 heat wave tragedy,” the group said in a statement, referencing the deadliest heat wave in U.S. history that killed more than 700 people in Chicago.

The group said the city’s six cooling centers don’t sufficiently address residents’ needs during the summer, particularly because they close at 5 p.m. with the except of the Garfield Park location, which is open 24 hours.

The centers are:

  • Englewood at 1140 W. 79th St.
  • Garfield Park at 10 S. Kedzie Ave.
  • Bronzeville at 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
  • Uptown at 845 W. Wilson Ave.
  • South Chicago at 8650 S. Commercial Ave.
  • Humboldt Park at 4312 W. North Ave.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Evan Moore also pointed residents to the city’s 21 senior centers, 75 public libraries and 34 Park District field houses. A map of those locations is available at data.cityofchicago.org.

Asked if CPS would consider the request to use schools, Moore said the city would use other locations if it “sees new need for cooling centers.”

“They would expand cooling facilities throughout their community service centers or call in cooling trucks,” Moore said.

The City Council last week imposed new cooling requirements on residential high-rises and senior citizen buildings, giving building managers 10 days to establish cooling centers for days the heat index reaches 80 degrees.

That new rules were pushed by Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), whose ward suffered the deaths of three women amid the May heat wave. Residents Janice Reed, 68, Gwendolyn Osborne, 72, and Delores McNeely, 76,lived at the James Sneider Apartments, 7450 N. Rogers Ave. in Rogers Park, where the air conditioning hadn’t been turned on.

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