A 16-year-old boy, Jose Morales, died Monday from injuries suffered in a fall after trespassing with friends inside the vacant Ravenswood Hospital, 1930 W. Wilson.
“The general feeling is shocked, but not completely surprised,” said Jeff Gawel, president of the West Ravenswood Neighbors Association.
Gawel has lived within blocks of the hospital for the past three years and while it’s been abandoned during that entire time, it’s only in the past six months that he’s noticed a decided increase in the amount of graffiti and the number of youth gaining illegal access to the building, activity he’s at a loss to explain. “Maybe a few people got in there and told their friends,” he speculated. “It’s just been such a headache with that building.”
The hospital has been purchased by Lycee Francais Chicago as the site of the school’s new campus, scheduled to open in 2015. In December 2011, Lycee was slapped with a number of building violations, including skirting the requirement to “maintain watchman from 4:00 PM to 8:00 AM for vacant and dangerous residential premises. (13-12-140)”
Though the violations are listed as “closed” on the Building Department’s website, CSJ noted numerous open and broken windows that would allow determined vandals to enter the hospital. Elaborate graffiti can be viewed on some of the building’s highest floors, inside and out.
Back in April, representatives from Lycee announced at a public meeting, “We will be able to pursue demolition of the old hospital within the next 90 days.” But in truth, that’s just the beginning of a process that includes six to eight weeks of asbestos abatement, meaning that the walls won’t come tumbling down until sometime around Labor Day, best case scenario.
That has residents like Gawel concerned and was the main topic of conversation at last week’s WRNA meeting. “Neighbors have been very frustrated,” he says. “What happens when it’s a demolition site? Will they be paying for security?”
In late June at a forum held to discuss the demolition timeline, Bill Beaman, vice president of American Demolition Corp., which is overseeing the asbestos abatement, stated that any openings in the building would be sealed with plastic or plywood prior to his crews beginning work. Given vandals’ ability to thwart those clearly ineffective measures thus far, neighbors are understandably skeptical that the building will be rendered impenetrable.
According to Gawel, who’s attended a number of CAPS meetings, calls for increased police patrols seem to have not been met. CSJ reached out to 19th District Police Commander John Kenny, who did not respond as of press time.
“Everybody wants the building down,” says Gawel, who worries that Morales won’t be the only casualty. “From my standpoint, it’s a real tragedy.”