Taft HS to get improvements; Oriole Park to receive annex


About $17 million in improvements to Taft High School and a $20 million annex at Oriole Park School are among the projects included in the Chicago Public Schools’ recently released capital budget plan for 2014.

Taft High School Local School Council chairman Ted Pirpiris said that the scope of the project exceeds the council’s expectations. “It was kind of surprising, shocking, Pirpiris said. “We are besides ourselves. I was thinking $2 million, not $17 million.”

For years the LSC and the Taft Parent Teacher Student Association have used words such as “invisible” and “forgotten” to describe how Taft ranked on the school system’s priority list. Complaints about cloudy windows and deteriorating lockers, many of which date back to 1939 when the school opened, were common at meetings.

Pirpiris said that school system officials began to take a closer look at Taft’s needs after Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) began lobbying on the school’s behalf.

Last year Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged the school system to designate Taft as a neighborhood international baccalaureate school, which included a promise of additional resources for the school. The designation requires the program to be incorporated throughout the school’s curriculum.

The planned renovations at Taft include replacing windows, tuckpointing, replacing student lockers and renovating nine science labs, some of which have had no major improvements since the late 1960s. Work is scheduled to start in September and to last about a year.

The plans for Oriole Park call for the construction of an annex to start in September and to be completed by February of 2015. Oriole Park has 652 students, which is 262 more than the school’s ideal program enrollment, according to the school system. Parents at Oriole have testified about the school’s infrastructure needs at Chicago Board of Education meetings.

O’Connor said that renovations are “the result of a group effort involving Senator John Mulroe and, of course the dedicated parents, administrators and educators at each of these schools. It’s important to note that this announcement does not solve all our problems, as we have the same concerns about over-utilization in neighborhood schools like Wildwood and Dirksen.”

The Chicago Public Schools’ capital budget for Fiscal Year 2014 totals $161.8 million. The largest project is for $30 million worth of renovations for the Chicago High School for the Arts, 521 E. 35th Street, and many schools will receive smaller improvement projects, including chimney repairs and the installation of new fixtures.

A copy of the capital plan is available online at www.nadignewspapers.com.

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