To keep tabs on the physical condition of high school laboratories, CPS rates them on a scale of 1 to 7. A 1 means there are life-threatening conditions; a 7 means a lab needs basic maintenance only.

But no labs have earned ratings at the top or the bottom of the scale. Every school earned a 3, 4 or 5, scores that one critic dubs “almost meaningless.” Among 34 high schools whose labs rated a 5—indicating that “50 percent repairs” are needed to features such as floors and lights—are Walter Payton College Prep, a state-of-the-art school built in 1999, and Calumet, a high school built more than 70 years before Payton. (Calumet Academy did not enroll a freshmen class this fall, and is expected to be converted to several small schools.)

Lower on the scale, labs at 28 schools scored a 4, which means they need infrastructure repairs like new water and gas lines. Labs at eight high schools received a 3 rating and need complete overhauls.

The rating system leaves experts like Andrea Lee of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group scratching their heads. “Clearly, there’s no system or objective process for doing these assessments,” says Lee. “If CPS has an objective process then they should demonstrate how they’re coming up with these conclusions.”

Another question mark: Renovations are underway or slated to begin this year for all but one of the schools with the lowest-rated labs. Work at Wells, where one of its six labs was rehabbed in 1999, was put off while upgrades for two schools with higher rated labs, Michelle Clark and Lincoln Park, were green-lighted in this year’s capital improvement budget.

“If these school assessments are suppose to direct the money, then why are schools like Lincoln Park jumping ahead of Wells?” asks Lee.

Officials say Lincoln Park renovations are a holdover from previous budgets and that Clark—recently expanded to include high school grades—needs high school-caliber labs.

To contact John Myers, call (312) 673-3874 or send an e-mail to

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