Silent skies over Coolidge chimneys


Swifts and Swifties both at a loss

by Melanie Jongsma
Demolition of the old Coolidge Elementary Building resumed on August 6. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

LANSING, Ill. (August 13, 2018) – A week of resumed demolition has left piles of rubble and twisted steel on the ground, at the feet of various pieces of National Wrecking Co. machinery that await the next day’s work. At 7:30pm tonight, in the fading daylight, only four or five swifts circled the old building. Throughout June and July it had been common to see hundreds of swifts arrive at dusk, chirping, swirling, and acrobatically diving into the chimney.

The original Coolidge Elementary School building had two large, brick chimneys that were used by a large colony of chimney swifts for roosting during the past 70 summers. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The Swifties were sparse too. At 8:00pm Stephen and Laura Serba arrived, and a few minutes later two others, and then a fifth person. They watched the darkening skies hopefully and discussed their disappointment at how the whole situation had been handled by the District 158 School Board. “I guess they lived up to the letter of their promise,” said Laura, “but not the spirit of it.”

One point of contention is the temporary chimney that the Board had promised to install in time to allow the colony of swifts to acclimate to it. Two wooden structures were installed around August 3. The old chimneys were capped on August 6.

The swift colony’s original home was the large brick chimney seen to the left, as well as a smaller brick chimney not visible in this picture. Two temporary chimneys (circled) were installed on the new building approximately 36 hours prior to capping the old chimneys. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Concern was also expressed about the size of the temporary chimneys and the materials used—would the birds be able to grip a plywood surface in the same way they had been roosting on the old brick?

Two temporary chimneys have been installed on the new school building. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

The next meeting of the School Board is Wednesday, August 15, at 7:00pm. Chimney swifts are not specifically listed on the meeting agenda:

  • Agenda: August 2018 District 158 School Board meeting

Meetings are held at the District 158 Administrative Office, 18300 Greenbay Avenue in Lansing. Call 708-474-6700 for more information.

As dusk deepened, the skies around the old Coolidge chimney remained empty. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)




  1. I am not at all surprised. The district and the contractor are only interested in meeting the deadlines as called for in the original contract. They lied if they said anything different.

  2. How sad for the bird watchers especially the “Swifties.” No surprise here–corporate America wins out again over conservation. Even if only for the delight of seeing these charming creatures come and go. Deadlines and $ make the world go round.

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