Chicago Tribune: ‘Sputnik-era’ CPS science labs to get upgrade as part of 3-year, $75M plan

Chicago Public Schools plans to spend $75 million over three years to build and renovate science labs at more than 80 high schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday in remarks that acknowledged significant disparities in the quality of school facilities.

Emanuel’s announcement came one year after the Chicago Board of Education approved new graduation requirements that will compel high school students to take one credit each in biology, chemistry and physics.

Emanuel and CPS CEO Janice Jackson alluded to the challenge of applying the new requirement equally across the district during their remarks at Crane High School on the West Side. Crane’s magnet program and several other buildings “have the science labs that you want to see across the city,” Emanuel said.

“But there are other schools that have science labs that are replicas of what existed during what I call the ‘Sputnik-Apollo era,’” the mayor said. “We’re trying to build science labs for the Tesla era for our kids.”

Some CPS high schools struggle to offer students all three required science courses, not just appropriate lab space to provide them in. Teachers may also need additional certifications to teach the classes.

Some of the district’s older neighborhood high schools that have been hardest-hit by years of budget cuts and enrollment drops — including Corliss, Fenger, Gage Park, Harlan, Hirsch, Kelvyn Park, Manley, Orr, Richards, Tilden and Wells — will see unspecified renovations.

Schools currently in line for new lab spaces include some of the district’s updated campuses and marquee selective-enrollment programs: Jones, Juarez, Northside Prep, Simeon, Westinghouse and Young high schools.

In all, officials said 82 high schools will receive new or renovated lab space.

“Our school system was not set up for universally every child in every high school having a lab equal to the education they need,” Emanuel said. “This investment today ensures that there’s a level playing field across the City of Chicago for every child. And ensures that we’re going to make an investment with them that’s commensurate and equal to the fact that we raised the standards on our kids.”

Students who enter high school in 2018, the Class of 2022, will be the first to have the new science graduation requirements.

CPS did not provide an exact construction timetable for the lab projects, and officials said the financing needed to pay for all of the construction still needs to be secured.

The first schools to receive science lab upgrades will be added to what has been a modest 2019 capital budget plan, a CPS spokesman said.

The proposed $189 million capital plan includes $154 million in what CPS describes as “significant” exterior renovations at 18 buildings and nearly $35 million more in planned mechanical work at five other schools.


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