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Ed Gardner: Black contractors should get half of CPS schools renovation work

Retired Solf Sheen Products founder Ed Gardner speaking Public Building CommissiBoard meeting presided over by Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday April

Retired Solf Sheen Products founder Ed Gardner, speaking to the Public Building Commission Board meeting presided over by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 11, 2013 6:40AM

Black contractors should be guaranteed at least half of the work to ready Chicago Public Schools to receive displaced students because African-American students and neighborhoods will bear the brunt of the 53 elementary school closings, a protest leader said Tuesday.

Retired Soft Sheen Products founder Ed Gardner intensified his year-long campaign to bolster black contracting as the Public Building Commission approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to funnel through the PBC he chairs all $220 million in school construction projects that must be completed by fall.

The Chicago Public Schools has set aside $155 million for an array of enticing physical and educational improvements at 55 schools designated to receive students.

They include: a school library; air-conditioning in every classroom; some new science labs; expanded Internet bandwidth and other technology improvements; new or renovated playgrounds; interior upgrades and cosmetic improvements, including new floors, ceilings and paint and safety enhancements, including cameras and entry screening equipment.

The capital plan also includes: $48 million for “co-locations,” $9 million for turn-around schools, $14 million to expand International Baccalaureate programs and $11.2 million to install modular classrooms to ready seven elementary schools to provide full-day kindergarten.

To maximize diversity, the PBC intends to divide the so-called “design-build” contracts into $12 million chunks and establish a goal of 30 percent minority participation on each.

That’s not good enough for Gardner, who put Emanuel on the hot seat last fall by leading a series of demonstrations that got progressively larger to protest a shortage of blacks on city construction jobs.

Gardner showed up at Tuesday’s PBC meeting and used his testimony during the public comment section to press his case for a 50 percent share.

“The black community is most affected by this. They should see blacks doing the contractual work. There are blacks who can do plumbing. There are blacks who can do dry-wall. All of this money is being spent. I don’t want to see Paschen and the big-money boys end up taking all of those dollars,” Gardner said.

“Their children should see black contractors rebuilding their schools and doing the things that have to be done to rehab their schools.”

As Emanuel listened intently, Gardner also demanded a major investment— including gardens — in the 53 schools targeted for closing to prevent them from becoming a “boarded-up blot” on struggling neighborhoods.

“They’re gonna put all of that money in the receiving schools — and they’re already in pretty good shape. To spend $155 million and not one penny into sending schools, to me, is horrible,” Gardner said.

When Gardner was finished speaking, Emanuel leaned over to talk to the former business leader.

“He said all receiving schools will have a community garden, which is great. He also commented that the sending schools, right now, they don’t know if they have the dollars to put money into any of those sending schools. But, he’s going to be interested in considering that,” Gardner said.

Gardner stepped up his campaign for black contracting on the same day that a City Council committee approved Emanuel’s plan to require at least 7.5 percent of the labor hours on city-funded construction contracts over $100,000 to go to residents of a yet-to-be-defined neighborhood surrounding the jackhammers.

City construction contractors are already required to fill 50 percent of their jobs with city residents. But there is no requirement that African-Americans be hired to fill construction jobs in black neighborhoods.

The 7.5 percent hiring preference would be applied toward the existing 50 percent requirement. The penalty for failing to comply would be 1/20th of one percent.

“That’s garbage. That’s not even worth discussing,” Gardner said.

“Eighteen percent of the black community is unemployed — the highest of any ethnic group and you’re gonna throw crumbs at them?”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) agreed that 7.5 percent is a “low number,” but she called it a “start from nothing.”

She added, “The bottom line is we’re tinkering at the edges of this issue and until we do something as an administration working with the unions to get them to diversify their work force, this is all peanuts.”

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