Whitney Young’s Sports Complex was supposed to be for the Public. But West Loop neighbors are blocked

WEST LOOP – Fee-based reservation systems and locksmith facilities are questioning whether residents are publicly funded areas of Whitney Young Magnet High School and the Skinner Park facilities are truly community-friendly.

The prestigious public high school presented its $ 4.3 million sports complex in 2019 in honor of former student and former first lady Michelle Obama. Fully funded with tax increase funding, the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose area can accommodate a variety of sports, and the facility has a training area for track and field events for markers, batting cages, and more.

At the time of the inauguration, the complex was designated a “everyone’s” facility. Although students would have priority in the field, it would be open to the public – except for the grass field, which would require permission, said Chief Joyce Kenner.

But in recent months, residents have been complaining about arriving at the field during public use hours to find the padlock, said May Toy Skinner Park Advisory Board chairman.

“I don’t think the neighborhood needs to scale a 10-foot fence to use that track,” Toy said.

Whitney Young’s tennis courts have also recently opened as a result of a successful donation campaign, including grants and community funding. Some in the community were shocked when the school introduced a new fee-based reservation system, charging the courts $ 15 an hour to use.

This is not what the school agreed to, Toy said, having previously negotiated with Kenner that “at least half of these tennis courts would be open without a fee for community use.”

Kenner was not ready to comment immediately. Athletic director Chris Cassidy did not return calls.

Credit: Melody Market, Block Club Chicago
The Michelle Obama Sports Center was closed during public hours on Thursday, June 9th.

Toy has asked Ald for help. Walter Burnett Jr. (27) He said he had been in contact with Chicago Public Schools to resolve the issue.

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

“Everyone is upset about budget cuts, which is understandable, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of people in the community,” Burnett said. “We want to make sure that public space, public park, public money, everyone gets a fair share of what’s available.”

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

“The district is investigating these allegations and complaints and will work to resolve the dispute,” CPS officials said.

‘Every time I called, the answer was always’ No ”

Milos Bajic has been running West Loop Soccer Club since 2015 to offer a fun and competitive youth football program at an affordable price. The club trains at Skinner Park and organizes children’s summer camps and competitive leagues.

When Bajic learned of the pitches being built at Whitney Young, he contacted school officials to see if he would be able to access them, but received no specific response, he said. When the fields opened, he tried several times to get permission, but was constantly told that the pitches were unavailable during the day, he said. The hours offered were at 8pm or later, too late for a children’s football camp, Bajic said.

So the club continues to train and play at Skinner Park while Bajic sees other teams use the area they have been trying to get into since 2019.

“Every time I called, the answer was always no, but these days we see someone else [using them], and this is how this can happen. ” said Bajic. “It’s not going to be paid like we wouldn’t be.”

Credit: Melody Market, Block Club Chicago
Whitney Young has introduced a newly refurbished tennis court, along with a fee-based booking system. Previously the courts were free.

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

As an avid tennis player, Desai donated $ 200 to the school’s tennis court renovation campaign. Desai believed that someone who wanted to use the renewed courts could have contributed to the cause without knowing that access would change after it reopened.

“I think a lot of people would agree, at least with the tennis courts and maybe other things, that … it was very clear that the updates were coming out as FYI,” Desai said. “I don’t think I saw an answer to a question from a neighbor. What they wanted to communicate was a one-way street. “

Desai said he is not against a fee structure because it helps the court manage it better, but he believes the price is a bit high compared to other facilities. For example, at XS Tennis, a facility on the South Side, Desai pays $ 16 an hour for his courts.

“I fully recognize that I will be willing to spend more than ordinary people when it comes to tennis because of my passion,” Desai said. “But if I had to put a number on it, I thought it would probably be $ 10 an hour. So $ 5 is a little more reasonable for a person. “

School officials did not respond to questions about why they decided to set up a fee-based reservation system.

Reservations for tennis courts can only be made on weekday afternoons and all day on weekends. That availability should be expanded, as courts often do not use it during the day, Desai said.

Desai said he went to school to ask about expanding the availability of the court. Officials said the availability could be expanded this summer – unless the court has reserved other camps and events, he said.

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