EAST CHICAGO | The East Chicago School Board has hired a law firm to explore the board's interest in reacquiring the former Eugene Field Elementary School, School Board President Jesse Gomez said.
The property was sold to the city last year by the previous board, before the seating of the city's first elected School Board.
"The property is valued at about $13 million," Gomez said. Previous board members appointed by the mayor "sold that property to the city for $1."
Mayor Anthony Copeland plans to use the Field School property to open an East Chicago City University Campus to provide opportunities for higher education.
Gomez said the School Board would like the city to give Field School back so the student population can be redistributed.
"Right now our schools are actually overcrowded, literally to the point where we're putting kids in closets in some cases," Gomez said. "Franklin (Academy) is way overcrowded. That's probably the most overcrowded school of all.
"McKinley Elementary is also overcrowded and Carrie Gosch (Elementary) is perhaps underutilized. We're trying to figure out which are the best geographic moves to make."
Gomez said the School Board also is interested in reopening West Side Junior High School to allow for the redistribution of the student population. He said the previous School Board had decided to close the school.
In a written response to The Times, Copeland said he is unaware of any overcrowding in East Chicago public schools.
"At the moment, there is one completely unoccupied school building, West Side Junior High, with both Central High and Block Junior High having numerous unused classrooms," Copeland said.
Copeland said enrollment in East Chicago public schools has been on the decline.
"The current East Chicago public school enrollment is less than 5,000, when preschoolers are adjusted out of the district's overall enrollment numbers," Copeland said. "This is down from over 5,600 in 2010."