School to Sue for Soundproofing from Airport Noise

DECEMBER 10, 1997

The Chicago Daily Herald (News, page 4) reports that area schools are fed up with the noise from the nearby O'Hare International airport. One school intends to sue the city for soundproofing.

The report describes how this autumn should have been an unusually quiet one at Immaculate Conception High School. Class discussions, musicals and hallway chatter all should be happening at the Elmhurst school without the customary interruptions from jets roaring overhead. But because of what Immaculate Conception calls a broken promise the school continues to be buffeted by noise from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. School leaders refuse to turn the other cheek, and are demanding the city of Chicago pay for soundproofing to stop the plane noise. To back up their demand, Immaculate Conception in September filed a lawsuit against the city asking for $ 7.6 million. The two sides will meet Friday to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

But meanwhile, according to the report, students and teachers complain they shouldn't have to put up with the situation. "It's not fair," said Cindy Thomas, an English teacher. The Wood Dale woman said she had been excited after hearing more than a year ago the city of Chicago had pledged money for soundproofing. It looked as if there would be no need anymore for Thomas' time-out signal, which she uses to halt class when a 727 thunders overhead. Despite her humorous antics, the interruptions irk her, Thomas said. A flyover lasts only seconds, but the interruption can last 10 minutes, she said, when you include the time it takes to calm students down and get them focused again.

"If I'm in a classroom with students and the jets are going over, I know I have to make an adaptation with my teaching," said Immaculate Conception Pastor Gerald Riva, who teaches theology. Once, more than an adjustment had to be made, he said. A summer outdoor theater was canceled because of the noise.

The article goes on to describe how Immaculate Conception has not only a high school but also a grade school on its campus near downtown Elmhurst, five miles from O'Hare. Some 860 students are affected by aircraft noise, officials said. "I think it definitely hurts the learning process," said senior Sarah Platt of Elmhurst. Students from outside of Elmhurst are surprised by the noise, according to Platt. "They're like, 'whoa,' " she said.

Riva had hoped decades of noise were coming to an end when a representative from Chicago's Department of Aviation offered to pay for insulation in spring 1996. "Chicago said this offer represented a new spirit of cooperation and that Chicago wished to avoid unnecessary lawsuits," he wrote in a letter to parishioners.

According to the article, the offer, which Riva considered a promise, had followed a court victory by a group of DuPage County public schools located near O'Hare. They received millions of dollars to soundproof their buildings. St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville, a Roman Catholic school like Immaculate Conception, also was given money. Soundproofing at St. Charles' grade school has improved conditions "extremely," according to Father Don McLaughlin. "The students are able to concentrate," he said.

Immaculate Conception officials hoped for similar soundproofing, but were dismayed when Chicago offered only $ 2.9 million for sound insulation. That may sound generous, but Riva said his school needs $7.6 million, and can't afford to make up the difference.

Chicago officials maintain the extra money isn't needed for soundproofing. Immaculate Conception, among other things, is asking for soundproofing for areas not typically used for education, city officials said. "What Immaculate Conception wants is to renovate," said aviation department spokeswoman Monique Bond. But Immaculate Conception claims it uses all four of its buildings for education. Riva says classes are held in the rectory, for instance.

The report says, finally, frustrated with Chicago's stance, the school sued in DuPage County Circuit Court. Immaculate Conception's lawyer, Joe Karaganis, said he was optimistic about the meeting with city officials planned for Friday. "It is my hope we are able to resolve it," he said. "It's the spirit of the season. These kids deserve this."