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Records show work at vacant Woodlawn school was done to turn it into migrant shelter, despite city's denial

Records show work was intended to turn old school into migrant shelter, despite city's denial
Records show work was intended to turn old school into migrant shelter, despite city's denial 02:59

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Electricians, carpenters, and other tradespeople have clocked hundreds of hours at a Woodlawn neighborhood elementary school – but the school is vacant.

We told you last month that the city denied the construction at the former Wadsworth Elementary School and later University of Chicago Charter School, at 6420 S. University Ave., was for a migrant shelter.

But CBS 2's Lauren Victory has now learned the Mayor's office was not exactly being transparent.

Back on Monday, Oct. 24, CBS 2's cameras captured several vans parked outside the now-empty Chicago Public Schools-owned building. An email also went out from Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) that day.

The email told Taylor's constituents the building would be "a site to receive migrants" with space for "500 single men and women."

But CBS 2 heard the opposite from the Mayor's office the next day.

"There are no plans to use the vacant Wadsworth Elementary School as a temporary shelter for newly arrived asylum seekers at this time," the Mayor's office said.

So what were those trucks doing at the old school building? And what about the pictures we obtained of construction inside?

CPS told us it was "routine maintenance work."

That didn't really make sense, so CBS 2 filed a records request – and an email turned up from Oct. 6 with a formal request by the city that the school be prepare for "usage as a congregate shelter as part of our migrant arrival operations."

A facilities director replied with a to-do list that included a "lot of cleaning" and "install(ing) washers and dryers." He said CPS is working on "toilets, urinals, bathroom partitions," and he adds that they "want the place in two weeks."

Records show 11 days later, work orders start coming in. "Migrant assistance" or "new arrivals" appeared in several descriptions for the work orders.

Interestingly, "audio system and press events" is one of the tasks ordered by the Mayor's office, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot's spokesperson told us no shelter is going in the old school building.

So what happened? Ald. Taylor said it was public pressure.

"They made a mistake," Taylor said. "They didn't count on me and my community saying it didn't make sense for it to go there."

We calculated nearly 400 hours of work logged at the school in October – public funds seemingly wasted.

At a news conference, Victory asked Mayor Lightfoot about how use of taxpayer money is being used prepare for migrants.

"We're about making sure we can do the work and prepare for every contingency, so we looked at a number of different locations all over the city - and obviously, vacant schools were on the list," Mayor Lightfoot said.

So why tell us there were no plans to u se the vacant Woodlawn school as a shelter?

"You got the work orders. You FOIA'd the information," Ald. Taylor said. "So who's lying?"

We pressed the mayor further about the discrepancy between what her office told us and what public records show. She said just because someone looked at something doesn't mean it was the final decision for migrants.

The mayor's representatives did not share why the empty school was considered, then taken off the list.

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