A Chicago charter school is under fire for construction plans that neighbors claim are contributing to a rise in crime in the Avondale community.
The Aspira High School is being built at the corner of Milwaukee and Monticello on the near northwest side.
Neighbors have already gone to court, alleging the zoning board abused its power in granting the permit to Aspira to build the school. Now, a community group is raising concerns that as construction moves forward, it's making the area more dangerous and Aspira is not doing its part to keep the lot safe.
Dr. John Zaborowski's clinic is right across the street from where Aspira has started work on a new high school. He says since the charter school company put up a fence around the site about a week ago, crime has spiked due in part to the homeless people who have set up camp on the sidewalk and parkway -- and are doing more than just hanging out.
An elderly patient was accosted just by one of them Friday.
"Aspira is responsible for the parkway and for everything that is happening there," Dr. Zaborowski says. "One of the vagrants came up and showed her a knife and aggressively panhandled for money. She told me she's afraid to come to my office."
And he says it's not just his patients, but people who live around here who feel endangered.
"Also, the tenants complain that at night there's more than just vagrants, there's prostitution, there's gang members out here, it's never been like this before," he says.
Neighbors say with a liquor store right across the street and a growing gang influence Aspira should not be building a school here.
"So that is the fear that you have a high school that is showing that they want to build, they have a construction tractor out here, but the fact is, the gangs are ahead of them," says Larry Ligas of Logan Square Concerned Citizens. "The gangs are here recruiting, and now you have the vagrants as a muscle for street crime."
But Aspira's Chairman of the Board believes it's unfair to blame the school for the problems, and in fact he believes it will help clean up the neighborhood.
"So for those who are interested in a dialogue about that the issue at stake here which is good education for children and a safe environment with an excellent facility, we invite them to come to us," Fernando Grillo says.
Aspira's Chairman of the Board believes the new school will be a positive influence in the neighborhood. It is set to open in 2014.