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'No plans' to use vacant Woodlawn school to shelter migrants, city says

Is Chicago pulling the plug on plans to turn vacant school into shelter for migrants?
Is Chicago pulling the plug on plans to turn vacant school into shelter for migrants? 02:35

CHICAGO (CBS) – Is the city pulling the plug on plans to turn a vacant school into a temporary shelter for migrants?

Neighbors sounded the alarm in a CBS 2 report on Monday. On Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office said the building is not under consideration to house asylum seekers.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory is digging into what's really going on.

The mayor's office refused to answer a lot of questions, including if a migrant shelter isn't going into the old school building, then what are the construction vans seen at the location for?

Hour after hour on Tuesday afternoon, CBS 2 watched crews from various contracting companies enter and exit the old Wadsworth Elementary School on 64th and University.

"Somebody's definitely getting ready for something, but what it is, we don't know," said Brenda Venor, a Woodlawn resident.

CBS 2 doesn't know either, because Lightfoot's office was not transparent about what's going on at the Chicago Public Schools-owned building.

CBS 2 obtained photos of some of the rehabilitation work inside which show shiny new pipes, buffed floors, and bathrooms under construction. Residents' tax dollars are clearly paying for something at the school, but for what? And for how much?

CPS said it's routine maintenance work on the vacant building, but one man said someone on the project told him something very different last week.

"The guy goes, 'Come on, let's go talk off the property, because if they hear me, they're gonna fire me,'" recalled Luis Cardona, a Woodlawn resident. "He goes, 'No, this is gonna be for the immigrants.'"

A shelter for migrants bused from Texas, that's also what residents of the 20th ward were told in an email from Ald. Jeanette Taylor. She shared concerns with CBS 2 on Monday about limited Spanish-speaking resources near Wadsworth Elementary.

"This is not me saying don't help these families," Taylor said. "Think about how you're helping them and dropping them off in a majority-Black ward makes no sense whatsoever. You're creating chaos in a community that's already struggling."

About a day after that interview, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said there are no plans to use the vacant school as a shelter for asylum seekers.

CBS 2 tried to go straight to the source and ask the workers what they're up to instead, but couldn't get in touch with anyone.

Neighbors are getting suspicious and frustrated.

"We just want to know what is going on in our community so we can know what we should be doing and how we can help," Venor said. "That's basically it."

There's another headscratcher: CBS 2 couldn't find any building permits for the construction happening at the former school building. Again, CPS called the work routine maintenance.

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