For 15 years, Democrats have attempted to build a school in the city’s Dunning neighborhood.
It is finally underway with an unusual complication: Construction workers are taking careful steps to avoid disturbing human remains that may lie beneath the soil.
The $70 million school is to be built on the grounds of a former Cook County Poor House where an estimated 38,000 people were buried in unmarked graves. Among the graveyard dead are residents who were too poor to afford funeral costs, unclaimed bodies and patients from the county’s insane asylum.
“There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place,” said Barry Fleig, a genealogist and cemetery researcher who began investigating the site in 1989. “It’s a spooky, scary place.”
Workers have until April 27 to excavate and clear the graveyard site, remediate the soil and relocate an existing sewer line.
The soon to be haunted school is scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 academic year, though a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools would not say what type of school it will be.
A sign on the northeast corner of Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road reads “Building a New Chicago” to announce the upcoming Read Dunning School at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave.
While the site contracts indicate it will be a middle school, Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 38th, said he is confident the campus will be either a new four-year high school for the Dunning neighborhood or a freshman academy for Taft High School, reports the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m sure they’re gonna be on top of some graves, but this is progress,” Sposato said. “It’s an economic boom for the community.”
Site of proposed school
2017 satellite image compared with historian’s notes of cemetery sites near former Cook County mental health center
A CPS spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment, but the district is expected to announce plans for the school in the fall.
Fleig said he’s “nearly certain” there are no intact caskets buried in the graveyard that is the proposed school grounds — bodies were primarily buried in two formal cemeteries, though scattered human remains have been discovered during previous construction projects near the campus.
Children, patients from an infirmary and a tuberculosis hospital, victims of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and Civil War veterans were laid to rest in what is known as the Dunning grounds, a 320-acre stretch on the city’s Northwest Side.
In 1854, the county opened a poorhouse and farm and gradually added an insane asylum, infirmary and tuberculosis hospital to the property. At its peak, a thousand people were buried on the grounds each year.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
April 5th, 2018