Chimney swift advocates feel betrayed by School Board 158
BY KATIE ARVIA
LANSING, Ill. (August 31, 2018) – The fate of the chimney swifts at Coolidge Elementary School has been a hot-button issue in Lansing since the beginning of summer. At School District 158’s Board meeting on August 15, the matter was brought up again, despite not being on the agenda.
Kat Podgorski, an Avian Wildlife Rehabilitator who lives near Coolidge, attended the meeting to support the chimney swifts and her fellow “Swifties” (people who gather at dusk to watch the swifts return to roost overnight). The chimneys that the swifts had called home for decades were capped on August 6, and Podgorski described that night as “stressful [and] tragic.” Temporary chimneys had been built as a substitute home for the birds, but Podgorski pointed out that the replacement chimneys were not large enough for the colony, nor were the birds given time to acclimate to the new structures.
Words and deeds
While the chimneys were capped on August 6, they weren’t demolished until August 23. “I’m not sure why the Board couldn’t have left the chimneys uncapped for a couple more weeks,” Podgorski said. She also noted that Board members’ absence from Coolidge on August 6 “speaks volumes.”
Following the meeting at which Podgorski made her public comment, School Board President Robert Bonifazi was asked if he planned to respond. “I don’t think Miss Podgorski deserves a response, quite frankly,” said Bonifazi. “I think that Miss Podgorski was a little bit careless and reckless in her accusations to the Board, and so at least I am choosing not to respond. The fact that she wanted to interpret that the Board members not being there shows any lack of respect or concern—it’s careless and reckless to make that. Miss Podgorski fails to remember that this is a volunteer position, that they all have responsibilities outside of this, and because I don’t show up to something doesn’t mean that I don’t care about something.”
In a response to Bonifazi’s statement, Podgorski said, “I fully understand life’s other commitments. However, for the months that this matter has been on their radar, I find it hard to believe that [the Board members] couldn’t have carved out 10–15 minutes on any given night to see the magic of the swifts firsthand, to see what people are talking about, and see what their actions are impacting.”
Podgorski continued, “Mr. Bonifazi directly expressed interest in making sure the birds had ample time to acclimate to the artificial towers as a possible new home. What was stated and voted upon and what played out in reality did not align.”
About attending the meeting, Podgorski said, “I simply proposed an opportunity for the Board to take action that would not only give the colony of swifts an actual place to keep Coolidge as their home, but also win back community support. I know good PR has always been important to the Board.”
Swifts and community
Podgorski described herself as being captivated by the swifts for decades. “The swifts are a necessary part of our ecosystem,” she explained. “They fill their own niche. Populations of these insectivores are on the decline globally due to habitat loss along the entire length of their migratory route to Peru. It is important to do what we can to maintain their populations at healthy levels for the integrity of a healthy ecosystem, of which we are all part.”
Podgorski also expressed how important swifts are to the village: “I am completely blown away by the sense of community that has developed around caring for and learning about these birds,” she said. Dozens of Swifties—from Lansing and neighboring towns—came out nightly to see the swifts at Coolidge throughout the last few months.
The swifts have been described as “one of Lansing’s best kept secrets,” and the discovery has brought people together.
Moving forward, Podgorski says she is anxious to see what will happen next: “The birds will return to Lansing next April. We are genuinely hoping Coolidge has a permanent structure in place that can support the colony of swifts we’ve all grown so fond of.”