Whitney Young Sports Complex still restricts public hours, locks residents out, park advocate says

WEST LOOP — Whitney Young Magnet High School is still limiting public access to its $4.3 million sports complex, said a park advocate who wants City Hall to intervene.

The prestigious public high school unveiled the facility — named after alumna and former first lady Michelle Obama — in 2019. Funded entirely with tax increment financing dollars, the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose field can host multiple sports and the facility features a practice area for athletics competitions, backboards, batting cages and more.

Officials hailed the complex as an “everyone” facility. Although students will have priority, it should be open to the public — except for the grass field, which would require a permit, former principal Joyce Kenner said at the time.

May Toy, president of the Skinner Park Advisory Board, said she negotiated hours and rules for public use with Kenner in 2019, and Toy relayed that information to neighbors.

Those public hours were to be 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, according to emails obtained by the Block Club. Those hours can be limited during school programs, such as physical education classes, passing periods, new principal Ricky Harris said.

But He said he has been fighting the school for months to keep his end of the bargain. The Block Club reported in June that residents were arriving at the track during public use hours only to find it padlocked.

credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
The Michelle Obama Sports Complex was locked down during public hours on Thursday, June 9.

Neighbors are still facing the same issues, and signs about public use hours were removed from the facility’s gates last week, Toi said.

Harris said it was a misunderstanding and the signs were being changed.

“We are in the process of getting new signs with clearer hours for public use. … We expect the new sign to be installed soon,” Harris said in an email. “We enjoy sharing the facility with the community and will continue to do so when it does not conflict with school programs.”

But He said the gates had been permanently locked for about two weeks.

“I don’t understand why they would take the signs down without putting new ones up,” Toy said. “I’ve seen people climbing over the fence and I don’t think that’s a safe way to access the compound.”

Harris said he will speak with school staff about the track being locked during public use hours.

“I will speak to our team and request that the complex be unlocked and open outside of the aforementioned instances,” Harris said.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said earlier this year that he called the Chicago Board of Education with Toy and was told the issue would be resolved.

“I thought it was resolved, but it looks like this is still going on,” Burnett said.

The West Loop councilor supported Toy, saying he thinks Whitney Young should maintain her agreement with the community and ensure public access to her song.

He raised the access issues with Whitney Young at an Oct. 31 meeting with City Hall and Burnett and hopes the city will step in, she said.

City Hall did not respond to a request for comment.

“I think the bigger picture is that if something has to be committed to the community that the Board of Education has done, they have to honor their commitments,” Burnett said.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every penny we earn reports from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support the Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Thank you for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every penny we earn reports from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support the Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Right: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”:

Leave a Comment