La Casita, an old fieldhouse next to Whittier Elementary School in Pilsen torn down Saturday morning, represented many things to local parents.
It was a community center where parents took English classes.
It had a library with more than 2,500 donated books.
It was a place where children learned Mexican folkloric dance.
It also offered computer classes and seminars on health and finance for parents.
It was as the nickname suggests, a little home away from home.
“It wasn’t just a building. You felt at home there,” said Angelica Cordova, 36, a mother of two children who currently attend the school told me as she stood with protesters as bulldozers tore up the site Saturday afternoon.
The fieldhouse at 1900 W. 23rd St. had been at the center of a conflict between parents, Chicago Public Schools and 25th Ward Ald. Daniel Solis since the fall of 2010 when there was a sit-in that lasted six weeks.
Parents protested to prevent the demolition of the building that needed major repairs, especially to the roof.
The field house was torn down Saturday morning without advance warning, parents said, and 10 people were reportedly arrested trying to stop the demolition. About 30 people gathered for a vigil Saturday afternoon.
But to some in the neighborhood the field house also was an eyesore.
They claimed it was dangerous and they were happy that it was torn down.
“It was old and outdated. It was dangerous to have kids in there,” said Rose Escobar, 58, who attended Whittier school as a child and has children and grandchildren who attended there.
Citing safety, CPS ordered construction workers to start bulldozing early Saturday morning.
In its place, a state of the art playground, an artificial turf field and two basketball courts will be built, according to CPS.
But parents of some of the youth say they don’t need more recreational space. What they need is a library and a community center. The nearest library, Lozano, is more than a mile away.
Some parents fear this is a move to make way for a private or charter school to use part of the land.
“We don’t even know if they may even close this school down. We want to find out what this land is being used for,” said Lisa Angonese, 52, who was part of 2010 protest. She has two children who attended Whittier and are now in high school.
Whittier Elementary is a dual language bilingual school. Escobar, who lives across the street from the school, said that she doesn’t support bilingual education, and that she didn’t feel welcome when she walked into La Casita because she didn’t speak Spanish.
“They have to learn proper English,” she said.
But other parents praised the teachers at the school and said the programs at the field house were essential to their family life and education.
“At La Casita, I learned how to believe in myself and to help my children,” Cordova said.
Cordova and others said they won’t give up the fight for their community center and hope a new one will be built in its place.