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Emanuel Names Panel To Decide Fate Of Shuttered School Buildings

CHICAGO (STMW) -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel is appointing an advisory committee to decide what to do with nearly 50 shuttered Chicago Public Schools that residents fear could be turned into charter schools or sit vacant and become magnets for crime, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The 13-member committee of aldermen, community developers, and officials from foundations and city government will be chaired by Wilbur Milhouse, owner of one of Chicago's largest African-American construction and engineering firms.

Milhouse said there are a "ton of ideas pouring in" about what to do with the 50 shuttered school buildings and the possibilities are "somewhat unlimited."

"In other cities, I've seen them take schools and make them into urban gardens, theaters, community centers or mixed-use loft space. I've seen them repurpose schools to where other agencies could utilize and rent out the space," he said.

"Each community is different. We're really gonna engage with the community and find out what they need and want and what shape the buildings are in. Some people will take a building in bad shape and make it into something marvelous. It just costs more money. I look at this as an opportunity to revitalize communities."

During marathon public hearings on school closings, residents unleashed their anger. They're afraid shuttered school buildings will either sit vacant or be turned over to charter operators, essentially privatizing public schools.

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said repeatedly since announcing her intention to close schools that none of the closed schools will be given to charter operators.

Milhouse said there is no chance that school buildings will remain vacant. They will simply be "boarded up and locked up tight" as part of what he called a "hibernation phase" while awaiting future plans and developer proposals.

As for the charter theory, Milhouse said, "I can't say that if that community says they want to make it a charter school that we would say no. That hasn't been given to me as a parameter to stop any community from turning it into a charter school."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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