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More than 700 sign Coolidge chimney swift petition

Reasons include conservation, history, and benefits to Lansing

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (July 12, 2018) – “Delay the Coolidge chimney demolition until October for the Chimney Swifts,” is the title emblazoned at the top of the online petition. It was posted three days ago by Lansing resident and recent activist Julie Blackwood. Blackwood lives near Coolidge Elementary School and has spent most nights this summer walking to Henry and Adams to join other “Swifties” in watching the growing colony return to their roost each evening at dusk.

Swift learning

Throughout Lansing, people are learning about the chimney swifts for the first time—though the migratory birds have been arriving in Lansing each summer for 20, 30, 40 years or more. “They do this every night?” is a common question from first-time Swifties. And whoever is standing nearby will begin sharing whatever knowledge they’ve recently gained.

Because of that initial lack of awareness, the Coolidge chimney swift petition goes into some detail explaining the situation. The case might be summarized as follows:

  1. A new school building was needed.
  2. The old school building was scheduled for demolition.
  3. The old building houses more than 300 chimney swifts.
  4. The swifts are federally protected.
  5. The swifts provide ecological and community benefits.
  6. The situation presents unique opportunities that should be explored.

Swift ideas

The petition proposes:

“We would like for decision-makers at Lansing School District 158 to see the Coolidge chimney swifts as a unique opportunity to be leveraged rather than a problem to be eliminated. With some reimagining of the plans and some readjusting of the construction schedule, the old chimney (and possibly the surrounding structure) could become a permanent nesting site for the birds and an education resource for the surrounding community. Repurposing some of the existing structure would result in fewer parking spots in the proposed parking lot, but imagine having a small learning center with information about swifts, ecology, migration, Peru, and even some history of the old school and the old chimney.

“…Community interest in the birds is already growing steadily, and with a little marketing, and some tie-ins to Fox Pointe, the Coolidge chimney swifts could attract birders, environmentalists, and curious families from throughout the area.”

Swift signers

The online petition also gives signers an opportunity to include “Reasons for signing.” At the time of this writing, about three dozen petitioners had chosen to post a reason. For some, the petition is about the birds; others are nostalgic about the old Coolidge building; a few see potential benefits the swifts might bring to the broader Lansing community:

  • “It’s nice to have them here in Lansing,” wrote Patti Cunniff.
  • “Why not leave it and attract visitors to view the amazing chimney swifts?” Liz Copeland typed.
  • And Maryoline Sferruzza suggested, “This is such a unique opportunity, it should be explored.”

School Board meeting

The next meeting of the District 158 School Board is scheduled for Wednesday, July 18, at 7:00pm. The agenda for that meeting has not yet been posted, but the Coolidge chimney swifts are anticipated to be an item of business. Demolition of the old building cannot proceed without further direction from the USDA.

Blackwood is hoping to reach at least 1,000 signatures on the swift petition before the date of that meeting.

School Board meetings are open to the public. They take place in the Board Room at the District Office, which is located at 18300 Greenbay Avenue in Lansing.

To view the petition in preparation for the meeting, visit this link:


Several hours after this story was originally posted, the number of signatures reached over 900.


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


  1. The Swift Chimney can and should be saved!
    It wouldn’t take much in the way of engineering / architecture to reinforce the chimney to stand alone. The demolition could still continue around it….

    Maybe JMA Architecture could render a drawing for free since they have been the Only firm drawing All the new Schools in Lansing?

  2. What a great idea. Even after the surrounding structure is demolished, what would it take to leave the chimney as the center point of say a courtyard for the new structure…or something like that? After almost 40 years of migration, where would these birds roost the following season? They will make their way here not having gotten the memo that their well established natural destination is gone–what then. What if the accommodation was made to build around the Swift Chimney preserving it for future generations only to have them become the new school mascot. How unique to Lansing would that be in this cookie-cutter world.

    The strength is not in eliminating habitat, but bending to live within.

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