A new shared space model could be the wave of the future for two of Chicago’s most cash-strapped institutions: Its public schools and its public libraries.
On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett attended the South Side opening of the new Back of the Yards High School, the city’s first public library-within-a-public-school model. While trumpeting the school’s new wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate program, Emanuel said:
“Here in the Back of the Yards, we’re embarking on not only a first, but on what will become copied and mimicked all across the city: putting neighborhood libraries in our schools because they serve the same community. They serve the same purpose.”
According to City Hall, the facility is “designed as a community campus” and will have separate entrances for the public and for the students. The high school will also house spaces for the Chicago Park District.
The library will be open six days a week and staffed by city librarians and a teacher-librarian from CPS.
The mayor made it clear that CPS and the CPL would be pooling resources from now on, the Sun-Times reports. Emanuel made no mention of whether the shared space model would mean closing any existing facilities, but CPL Library Commissioner Brian Bannon said, “It’s not about decreasing library service and reducing. We’re not looking at closing libraries. It’s about reducing storefront and leased space.”
The Back of the Yards community library was destroyed in a flood in 2011 as Progress Illinois notes, and the cost to aqcuire land and rebuild a new facility would be roughly $15 million.
The $91.5 million state-of-the-art high and library facility comes at a time when both CPS and CPL are reeling from deep budget cuts. As the Sun-Times notes, the city built 59 new libraries during the 22 years under former Mayor Richard Daley while Emanuel chopped so much of the library budget that in 2012, longtime Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey resigned in protest.
At Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, Byrd Bennett said Back of the Yards’ new facility was “the most incredible school that I have seen in probably my entire career,” according to WBEZ.