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More schools, libraries to share facilities, Emanuel says

Updated: September 10, 2013 6:22AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he plans to duplicate across the city the cost-saving, library-within-a-school model that will make its debut at Chicago’s new Back of the Yards High School.

Chicago built 59 new libraries during the 22-year reign of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The building binge came to a crashing halt when Emanuel took office and forced the public library system to absorb 50 percent of the layoffs in his first budget.

The library cuts were so great, they prompted the January 2012 resignation of longtime Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey.

On Thursday, Emanuel held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to showcase the new International Baccalaureate high school at 2111 W. 47th and the community library within the new school with a separate public entrance.

He made it clear that the two financially strapped agencies — Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Library — would be pooling their diminishing resources from now on.

“They have the same mission: to educate our children. It shouldn’t be in separate buildings. It should be in a single building,” the mayor said.

“So, here in the Back of the Yards, we’re embarking on not only a first, but on what will become copied and mimicked all across the city: putting neighborhood libraries in our schools because they serve the same community. They serve the same purpose.”

Emanuel did not explain whether duplicating the library-in-a-school concept would pave the way for existing neighborhood libraries to close, or whether it would simply avert the need to build new libraries.

Library Commissioner Brian Bannon said, “It’s not about decreasing library service and reducing. We’re not looking at closing libraries. It’s about reducing storefront and leased space. We had lost that old storefront library [in Back of the Yards]. If that opportunity comes up again where we could replace leased facilities, we’ll explore it.”

The Back of the Yards community lost its library to a flood two years ago.

The new 8,000-square-foot library-within-a-school will be open six days a week. It will be staffed during school hours by city librarians working alongside a full-time CPS teacher-librarian responsible for ensuring that the library collection meets the needs of the rigorous IB curriculum.

Schools have high security to protect students, including surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police officers, security guards and visitor badges. Libraries are open to everybody.

Bannon said he reconciled those conflicting needs by having only one outside entrance to the library even though the school and library share a common wall.

“This is not a school library. It’s a full-service community library. We wanted to make sure we had the appropriate separation, but we can also support the school,” he said.

“You leave the high school, and you come into the library. The only entrance to the public is a separate entrance. It’s a completely different area than where kids enter the school.

We’re using the same security protocols that exist in other libraries: theft detection gates, trained personnel, security guards.”

On Friday, the City Council’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on devastating school budget cuts. It will give aldermen a chance to press their demand for Emanuel to declare a tax-increment-financing surplus to mitigate more than 3,000 school layoffs this summer,

Thursday’s ribbon-cutting gave CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett an opportunity to showcase the fact that, as she put it, “Even in the face of historic financial challenges, we continue to make the critical investments in high-quality” education programs.

“Why do we do this despite the financial challenges? A no-brainer. We do it because we believe. No, actually we don’t believe. We do it because we know that our children cannot afford to wait another day for the quality education that they deserve and our parents have demanded that we increase and expand access to high-quality neighborhood and selective enrollment schools,” Byrd-Bennett said.

She added, “My staff is really great. They prepare remarks for me. Sometimes I ad-lib. But I must tell you, I’m ad-libbing totally right now. This is the most incredible school that I have seen in probably my entire career.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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