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CPS skips permit in demolition of Whittier school fieldhouse

Demoliticrews dismantling fieldhouse behind Whittier Elementary August. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Demolition crews dismantling the fieldhouse behind Whittier Elementary in August. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 21, 2013 6:16AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked school team was so concerned about the structural integrity of a Pilsen school fieldhouse — and in such a rush to tear it down — they didn’t even wait to get a demolition permit, City Hall disclosed Monday.

Meanwhile, Whittier Elementary School parents and community members continued fund raising to offset legal fees of protesters arrested trying to stop Saturday’s demolition, and begin a new battle to replace their La Casita Community Center.

City officials said Monday it was an administrative order — rather than a demolition permit — that was issued to the Chicago Public Schools by the city’s Department of Buildings on Friday, paving the way for razing of the fieldhouse.

An administrative order allows buildings to be demolished “on an emergency basis” without a demolition permit, according to mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

“The order was issued after the Department of Buildings reviewed the architect’s/structural engineer’s report that deemed the building was unsafe to occupy and a hazard to the community,” McCaffrey wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“According to the report, the building is in a very advanced state of deterioration. The envelope has failed and the substrate is deteriorating. Some structural members have actually failed and other structural members are being deteriorated by the failure of the building envelope. The building is not safe for occupancy.”

McCaffrey called the administrative order “routine for emergency demos.”

He had no immediate information on how many of the orders had been issued this year.

Ten protesters who had camped out overnight in a failed attempt to save the aged building they were using as a community center — operating tutoring, extracurricular activities and G.E.D. and English as second language courses — were arrested Saturday.

The Whittier Parents Committee, which had won a reprieve for the building in 2010 with a 43-day sit-in that attracted national media attention, accuses CPS of an autocratic land-grab in the demolition that came with no notice — mirroring former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s notorious midnight destruction of Meigs Field on March 30, 2003.

“We are not just going to accept this. We’re considering our legal options, because this has been a slap in the face to this community, followed by a lot of non-truths that CPS has been telling,” said Lisa Angonese, who was La Casita’s executive director, and one of some 40 Latino mothers who spent 43 days there in 2010.

“We have promises in writing that CPS is trying to tell the public were never made. That’s the way they are. They have put obstacles before us at every turn, just so they could sneak in at night and tear it down.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll maintained the safety issues necessitated the CPS team arriving at the fieldhouse at 6 p.m. Friday to begin asbestos removal and working into the night toward the demolition that began at around 9 a.m. Saturday. Although the work was done at night and over the weekend, no overtime pay was required, she said.

The two Latino lawmakers who had championed the parents’ cause, 25th Ward Ald. Juan Soliz and State Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) did not return phone calls Monday.

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