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Chicago school construction could unearth human remains

April 5, 2018

CHICAGO (AP) — Construction workers building a school in a northwest Chicago neighborhood are working carefully to avoid disturbing human remains possibly lying underneath the site.

The $70 million Read Dunning School is being built at the site of the former Cook County Poor House, the Chicago Tribune reported . An estimated 38,000 people have been buried in the area in unmarked graves since the 1800s, including people too poor to afford a funeral, unclaimed bodies and mentally ill patients from the county’s asylum.

“There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place,” said Barry Fleig, a genealogist and cemetery researcher who began investigating the site in 1989. “It’s a spooky, scary place.”

The city hasn’t found any human remains since it began examining the site in 2013, said Bryant Payne, a spokesman for the city’s Public Building Commission.

The commission drafted a plan to guide workers in how to properly handle potential discoveries. Workers are instructed to use plastic or rubber shovels and scoops during construction. They must keep plastic bags, plastic tubs, gloves and photo equipment on site in case workers uncover bones or artifacts.

Officials will create a perimeter around any discovered intact graves and remove coffins and artifacts before resuming work.

The Illinois State Museum has jurisdiction over any human remains that are unearthed. The museum would work with the state Department of Natural Resources to establish a final resting place, officials said.

Chicago Public Schools hasn’t released details about what type of school the facility will be. The school will be 135,000 square feet (12,541 square meters) and accommodate about 1,200 students, said Ald. Nicholas Sposato. It’s expected to open for the 2019-20 school year.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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