WEST LOOP — A paid reservation system and padlocked facilities have residents wondering if the publicly funded grounds and amenities at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Skinner Park are really for the community.

The prestigious public high school unveiled its $4.3 million sports complex in 2019, named after alumnus and former first lady Michelle Obama. Funded entirely by tax funding, the state-of-the-art multipurpose field can accommodate multiple types of sports, and the facility features a practice area for track and field events, scoreboards, cages hitters and more.

Upon its inauguration, the complex was hailed as a facility for “everyone”. While students would have priority on the pitch, it was to be open to the public – except for the grass pitch, which would require a permit, principal Joyce Kenner previously said.

But in recent months residents have complained of arriving on the grounds during its hours of public use to find it padlocked, said May Toy, head of the Skinner Park advisory board.

“I don’t think the neighborhood should have to climb a 10-foot fence to use this track,” Toy said.

The Whitney Young tennis courts also reopened recently after resurfacing thanks to a successful donation campaign, which included grants and community funding. Some community members were surprised when the school unveiled a new paid reservation system, charging $15 an hour to use the courts.

That’s not what the school agreed to, said Toy, who previously negotiated with Kenner that “at least half of those tennis courts would remain open for community use at no charge.”

Kenner was not immediately available for comment. Sporting director Chris Cassidy did not return the calls.

Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
The Michelle Obama Sports Complex closed during public hours on Thursday, June 9.

Toy enlisted Ald’s help. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who said he’s been in touch with Chicago Public Schools to resolve the issue.

Burnett, who supported the addition of the Michelle Obama Sports Complex to the neighborhood, said he does not support the limited access and fees described by Toy.

“Everyone is in turmoil due to budget constraints, which is understandable, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of community members,” Burnett said. “Public space, public park, public money, we want to make sure everyone gets a fair share of what’s available.”

A Chicago Public Schools spokesperson said in a statement that the district is “committed to creating safe and welcoming school environments.”

“The district is reviewing these allegations and complaints and will work to resolve any disputes,” CPS officials said.

“Every time I called, the answer was always ‘no'”

Milos Bajic has been leading West Loop Soccer Club since 2015 to provide a fun and competitive youth soccer program at an affordable price. The club practices in Skinner Park and organizes summer camps and competitive leagues for children.

When Bajic learned the turf fields were being built at Whitney Young, he contacted school officials to see if he could access them, but got no concrete response, he said. he declares. When the fields opened, he tried several times to get a permit, but was constantly told the fields weren’t available during the day, he said. The proposed times were 8 p.m. or later, far too late for a children’s soccer camp, Bajic said.

So the club continue to train and play at Skinner Park while Bajic watches other groups use the ground he has been trying to access since 2019.

“Every time I called the answer was always ‘no’, but we see someone else on those days [using them], and it’s like, how can this happen? Bajic said. “It’s not like we won’t pay.”

Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
Whitney Young recently unveiled her newly refurbished tennis courts and with it a paid reservation system. Previously, the courts were free.

Darshan Desai, who lives near Skinner Park, said Whitney Young leaders need to work more closely with the community.

As an avid tennis player, Desai donated $200 to the school’s campaign to resurface its tennis courts. Desai thought he could help the cause as someone who would want to use the renovated courts, not knowing that access would change after they reopen.

“I think a lot of people would agree that, at least with the tennis courts and maybe other things, that…it was very clear that the updates were coming out for the record,” Desai said. . “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an answer to a question posed by a resident. Whatever they wanted to communicate…it was one-sided.

Desai said he doesn’t object to a fee structure as it helps with better court management, but he thinks the price is a little steep compared to other facilities. For example, at XS Tennis, a south side facility, Desai pays $16 an hour for his courts.

“I fully recognize that I will be willing to spend maybe more than the average person when it comes to tennis because it is my passion,” Desai said. “But if I had to put a number there, I was thinking, probably $10 an hour. So $5 per person is a bit more reasonable.

School officials did not respond to questions asking why they decided to implement a paid reservation system.

Reservations for the tennis courts are only available on weekday evenings and all day on weekends. This availability should increase since the courts are often unused during the day, Desai said.

Desai said he contacted the school to inquire about expanding court availability. Officials have told him that availability could increase this summer – if the courts aren’t already booked by other camps and events, he said.

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