The Whitney Young Sports Complex is still restricting hours and locking out residents, Park Advocate says

WEST LOOP — Whitney Young Magnet High School is still restricting public access to its $4.3 million sports complex, said a parks advocate who wants the mayor’s office to step in.

The prestigious public high school unveiled the facility — named for alumna and former first lady Michelle Obama — in 2019. The state-of-the-art, multi-purpose field is funded entirely by tax-raising funding and can host multiple sports. The facility features a practice area for track and field events, scoreboards, batting cages and more .

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

May Toy, president of the Skinner Park Advisory Council, said she negotiated opening times and rules for public use with Kenner in 2019, and Toy shared that information with neighbors.

Those public hours should be 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, according to emails Block Club received. Those hours could be limited during school programs like physical education classes and transition periods, new principal Rickey Harris said.

But Toy said she had been fighting with the school for months to keep her end of the bargain. The Block Club reported in June that residents would arrive at the track during public hours only to find it padlocked.

Recognition: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
The Michelle Obama Sports Complex will be closed during public hours on Thursday, June 9th.

Neighbors are still seeing the same problems, and public-use hour signs were removed from the facility’s gates last week, Toy said.

Harris said there was a misunderstanding and the signs would be replaced.

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

But Toy said the gates have been locked non-stop for about two weeks.

“I don’t understand why they took down the signs without putting new ones up,” Toy said. “I’ve seen people climb over the fence and I don’t think it’s a safe way to access the complex.”

Harris said he will speak to school staff about the track being closed during public hours.

“I will be speaking to our team and requesting that the complex be unlocked and opened outside of the above cases,” Harris said.

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

“I thought it was settled, but it seems this is still going on,” Burnett said.

The West Loop City Council has supported Toy, saying that Whitney Young should maintain its agreement with the community and allow public access to its route.

Toy brought up the access issues at Whitney Young in a meeting with the mayor’s office and Burnett, and she hopes the city will step in, she said.

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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

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