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Creative / Reuse in Chicago Public Schools - A Proposal

The Chicago Public Schools Educational Facility Master Plan has identified many under-utilized schools and CPS is hosting a series of community engagement roundtables to determine what to do with them. We'd like them to provide space and support to CCRx as we redistribute and reimagine surplus for teachers and their students. Read more about our proposal below and sign up to attend a Community Roundtable to let them know that you support Creative/Reuse in Chicago Public Schools!

The Need

Climate change and Illinois’ rapidly diminishing landfill capacity point to the urgent need to reduce what we throw away. Young people are plagued by a lack of hope for the future and the feeling that there is nothing they can do.

Teachers are challenged to help them realize their potential, and also challenged by having to purchase needed supplies out-of-pocket.


Though Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is continually budget strapped, it does not have an effective system for reuse, repair, or redistribution of existing resources -- be they books, furniture, or other supplies from its over 800 properties -- or for taking in donated surplus from businesses or individuals.


Almost everything not immediately needed in a CPS school is sent to the landfill - thousands of tons of books, furniture, equipment and supplies annually.


Despite CPS having a "warehouse program", CPS teachers are rarely informed about any items offered or received and so must purchase needed supplies for their classrooms and students out-of-pocket. Items donated to CPS are housed in a warehouse that is only open once a quarter, when a school can send two reps for an hour to tag what they want. If you don’t get the invite from CPS or your principal, you are out of luck.


In this era of climate change, CPS needs a sustainability plan for reuse of materials, supplies and equipment. Meanwhile, local businesses are always looking for ways to donate unneeded surplus and frequently are turned away as there is no easy, transparent solution.


The Good News

The good news is that these disparate and real problems can be successfully addressed using the social, physical and virtual infrastructures that already exist here in Chicago, as developed by the Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx) andthe award-winning Rheaply. CCRx models New York's Materials for the Arts and DuPage County's SCARCE to save promote reuse with an emphasis on teachers, while Rheaply's online asset managment reuse platform is in use across the nation and in Chicago to help municipalities, educationals institutions and others save money, reduce climate change and keep good things in use and out of the landfill.




A Solution

Imagine if a teacher, principal, administrator could go online and find desks, books, supplies and equipment available from sister schools or from local businesses with surplus to offer. Imagine if a teacher could visit a warehouse at any time to pick out free supplies and get ideas for project-based learning. Then imagine if there were classes and resources for repairing or reimagining these items, sharing skills and creativity. Imagine if instead of hauling stuff to the landfill, jobs included refurbishing and redistributing everything from chairs to calculators. Imagine if a business with “clean, safe, and working” surplus that was too good to toss had an easy way to donate and find a use for it.


CCRx and Rheaply have the resources and tools that can help redistribute good surplus to those who can use it; easily track and set benchmarks for success; and instill a "reuse ethos" in Chicago schools that will help CPS trim its budget, provide valuable materials to teachers, show students that they can make a positive difference to the future, and create interesting jobs within communities across the city. Operating in a physical space as well as vitrually, this reuse infrastructure can be used for a warehouse full of paper, a truckload of downsized office supplies, a library of books, or a bunch of props from a theater set. It is affordable, scalable and modeled after existing programs with demonstrable success.


While there are many details to address, the simple solution we are proposing is to hire CCRx to manage a creative reuse space for the Chicago Public School system where a range of items can be browsed and classes and professional development programs offered for teachers, and to use Rheaply's award-winning online asset management system to enable trades, swaps, loans, gifts, rentals and more, customized for any user group within or beyond CPS. Working together, on-line and in person, we can help CPS reduce its budget, support its teachers, inspire students, streamline efficiency, and keep valuable items out of landfill.


A Case in Point - San Francisco’s Virtual Reuse Warehouse    Rheaply recently successfully launched the City of San Francisco Environment Department's Virtual Reuse Warehouse, which combines an online reuse system with a physical warehouse for reusable surplus goods coming from municipality groups, schools, local businesses and nonprofits.  The San Francisco project primarily focuses on commercial construction and includes items such as reclaimed bricks, marble slabs, metals, office furniture, furniture, and fixtures, however Rheaply is equipped to handle many different materials, from hard-to-recycle industrious waste materials to textbooks.


A Case in Point - NYC Materials for the Arts

New York City's Materials for the Arts (MFTA) is an award-winning creative reuse program that redistributes donations to schools and nonprofits from a 45,000 s.f. warehouse in Long Island City.


MFTA takes in everything from costumes to furniture to fabric and decorations, musical instruments and more. Teachers and nonprofits can take all these items for free, along with workshops and professional development for project-based learning. MFTA fosters conservation and reuse through creativity, education and community-building. They host exhibitions, field trips, and other special events to inspire creativity + reuse.


Launched in 1978, MFTA run by the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs and is supported by NYC Depts of Education and Sanitation and an independent 501c3, Friends of Materials for the Arts. They see the value to the arts, to education and to the environment. Chicago has all these same ingredients - let's use them.


The solution we propose is for CPS to engage CCRx to manage a creative reuse warehouse like MFTA, where interesting surplus items can be browsed in person and combined with professional development for teachers, and to use Rheaply's award-winning online asset management system customized for any user group within or beyond CPS to enable trades, swaps, sales, and rentals of donated and surplus materials, supplies and equipment within the system.


Who We Are


The Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that is modeled after New York City’s award-winning creative reuse program, Materials for the Arts. CCRx redistributes and often reimagines valuable surplus from its warehouse on Chicago’s Southwest side and sparks creativity and environmental stewardship through programs and collaborations.   (Watch our Intro video below)



Since opening its creative reuse warehouse in 2019, CCRx has redistributed materials, supplies, and equipment donated by hundreds of individuals and businesses and weighing in at over 300,000 lbs -- to teachers, artists, nonprofits, and community groups throughout the region all year round. CCRx's annual School’s Out Green-Out! Donation Drive brings tons of supplies from neighboring schools, sorted and prepped for our annual Back-to-School Teacher Supply Giveaway -- simple solutions that demonstrate a demand for gently used items that should be part of our infrastructure available to every resident in every neighborhood.


Chicago-based Rheaply’s award-winning user-friendly asset management marketplace platform is used in cities across the US to share / loan / rent or sell valuable assets within designated communities and user-groups. Rheaply has launched systems at Northwestern, University of Chicago and is leading the Circular Cities movement with city-wide public marketplaces in New York, San Francisco, and now in Chicago(!) They offer permissions-based listings, rich reporting, and consulting services on a platform that is attractive and easy-to-use. Read about a recent lab-cleanout from the University of Chicago.


Rheaply is working with emerging thought leaders and has partnered with economic development agencies, institutions, private companies, local governments, and non-governmental organizations that are looking to transform cities by unlocking economic, environmental, and social opportunities through better tracking of resources and material flows.


The combination of Rheaply’s virtual and CCRx’s physical infrastructure would enable CPS to redistribute a vast amount of surplus and engage teachers, students and related constituents in the process.



Where to Begin


Here is a list of 4 potential Startup Projects to begin building a working relationship between CPS, CCRx and Rheaply to create a system-wide reuse infrastructure with virtual, social and physical components that highlight creativity and community.

  1. Pilot CCRx “School's Out Green Out!” surplus supply donation drives in Chicago schools. This is an easy way to clear out unwanted items, share them within the school, and then redistribute the surplus at Back to School Teacher Supply Giveaway events. And to engage students in the process.

  2. Sign on to Rheaply’s platform to list selected items available to principals, administrators and teachers. Engage students, clubs and committees in this activity too.

  3. Support CCRx in opening a Materials for the Arts-type creative reuse warehouse(s) in an under-enrolled schools, in the current CPS warehouse, or other space(s) to be determined.

  4. Create and commit to a system-wide Sustainability Plan with the metrics to guide it. that goes beyond construction and food waste to incorporate reuse and circularity. We can work with you to do this.


Reuse must join recycling as solutions to our growing climate crisis - and our economic crisis, too. Chicago must commit to reuse and recycling and circularity. Where better to begin than in our schools? We can model this behavior throughout and inspire and educate the next generation on best practices for a sustainable city.


All of these goals are attainable and will make a tremendous difference to current and future generations. Although “reuse” hasn't been a priority of CPS or the City of Chicago to date, all the pieces are here and its time has come. Let’s work together to make it happen.


Please contact Barbara Koenen, CCRx Founder and Executive Director barbara@creativechirx.org. 312-909-5902

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