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'Desperately needed' Chicago school repair funds won't go far

Chicago Public Schools is cutting back drastically on school construction and repairs, slashing next year's capital budget by over 80 percent.

Elias Estrada, principal at Oriole Park Elementary near O'Hare airport, is one of very few lucky principals. His school will finally get $2.5 million dollars for repairs—repairs he says are "desperately needed."

Take his roof, for example.

"The last two years they’ve patched it—I venture to say at least 20-30 times. And every time they put a new patch in, another one comes up."

The roof leaks into the lunchroom. "We make do," says Estrada. "We close some sections of that cafeteria. We feed kids in the classroom, we feed them in the science lab."

Oriole Park was built in the 1940s, and Estrada says some parts of the building have never been updated. "We’re still one of the schools that is using fuses rather than circuit breakers," he says.

The bad news: In a city with more than 600 school buildings, Oriole Park is one of just two schools slated for major repairs in a capital budget being slashed from $615 million this year to $110 million next year. Higgins Elementary on the Far South Side is the other school.

CPS says it’s prioritizing repairs that affect student safety. It’s also building 12-15 playgrounds to support the district's return to recess next school year.  Almost $14 million will go to improving computer networks and internet connections. The biggest share of the budget, $39 million, is going to evaluate and upgrade the energy efficiency of school buildings, with funding to come from the mayor’s new Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

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