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Proposal requires property owners to secure vacant buildings near schools

Alderman Deborah Graham Aldermen Robert Fioretti walk past boarded up building across street from LelElementary School 5231 W. Congress Blvd.

Alderman Deborah Graham and Aldermen Robert Fioretti walk past a boarded up building across the street from the Leland Elementary School, 5231 W. Congress Blvd. Sunday, October 02, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: November 15, 2011 9:59AM

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, city aldermen and public safety advocates gathered Sunday to announce a plan to help keep Chicago Public School children safe.

At a news conference in front of Leland Elementary School, 5231 W. Congress, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said she will introduce on Wednesday the Vacant Property Safe Passages ordinance.

Backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, the ordinance requires owners of vacant buildings within a 1,000-yard radius of public schools to have a watchman on the premises between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Non-compliance will result in fines of up to $500.

“This is an important piece of legislation,” Graham said. “We want these properties secured on a daily basis to ensure the safety of schoolchildren.”

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) agreed, simply stating, “This ordinance protects our children.”

Jackson Potter, CTU staff coordinator, pointed out that many elementary schools, including Talcott, Marquette, West Pullman and Barton, have many vacant buildings in close proximity.

“This is a real crisis,” Potter said. “It’s not something we’re making up.”

Providing safe passage remains a top priority at Chicago Public Schools, says spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

“Despite the historic $700 million budget deficit CPS faced this year, we increased funding for our Safe Passage program to expand the number of schools and community watchers on the street,” Carroll said. “They provide a safe passage for students residing in communities with the highest incidents of crime involving gang activity and other violent incidents.”

While no incidents have been reported in regard to the vacant buildings, they remain a threat to children, says Michelle Young, president of Act Now, a family advocacy organization.

“We don’t want to wait for something to happen,” Young said. “We want to keep it from happening.”

To drive the point home, advocates pointed out three vacant graystones on the same block as Leland Elementary. Sherman Carter, a 41-year resident of the neighborhood, lives next to one that has been empty for three years. He says the yard was finally cleaned up this past week.

“Word must have gotten out about the press conference,” Carter said, shaking his head. “This house has been really, really bad and full of trouble. The need is great to take care of these buildings for the safety of the schools and the neighborhoods.”

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