Legendary Chicago businessman Ed Gardner is urging the city of Chicago to allocate a portion of the $90 million contract for a proposed trade school at Chicago Vocational Career Academy to African Americans.

Gardner, 87, the founder a Soft Sheen hair products, came out of retirement last year to fight for more jobs and contracts for blacks in the city. He was scheduled to make his case about Chicago Vocational at a March 12 Chicago Public Building Commission meeting.

“The Board of Education is considering appointing a group called DLR to provide the architects to do the rehab work at the CVCA,” Gardner says. “Once you decide who the architect is, he in turn will have the responsibility of inspecting general contractors and will assign the sub-contractors.”

The PBC is chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Chicago Vocational was previously called Chicago Vocational High School (CVS).

Gardner is demanding to know what percentage of the $90 million contract will go toward African Americans for the project. Gardner said 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, who was a student at the South Side school, is also advocating for fairness. The alderman, he says, “has tried to fight with the PBC to be sure that black architects get a chance to do the architectural work, and black contractors are included.”

Chicago Vocational opened as an all-male school in 1940 with 850 students. It was under the control of the U.S. Navy in 1941 with the beginning of WWII. In 1942, classes were reportedly taught 24-hours a day for the convenience of working students. In 1946, the school went coed.

Gardner is joined by state Sen. Donne Trotter (17th) in his cause. He credits Trotter for getting the initial funds passed for the project. Gardner maintains that the PBC wants to decide who will get the contracts.

“We feel unless we step up to the plate, then black contractors will not get their share of that $90 million public works project,” Gardner said.

He has plenty of questions. He wants to know who the black architects on the project are and that their percentage is?

“Who will get that $90 million of construction work? What is the community-hiring plan for the project and who will monitor it?” Gardner says. “Too often we have had to stand by and watch Latinos and whites working in the middle of our community and we not get our share of the business.”

The South Side school is home to such alumni as late comedian Bernie Mac, former Chicago Bear Chris Zorich, and former NBA star Juwan Howard. The massive project for the high school, located at 2100 East 87th St., is the brainchild of Trotter, who worked closely with Ald. Harris.

Originally, $75 million was appropriated for the project, out of the $31 billion capital budget passed in Springfield 3 years ago. Since the bill was passed, Trotter said, “These dollars have been sitting there waiting for the [Chicago Public Schools] to come up with a plan. That $75 million is now $90 million based on inflation.

“I’ve gotten a commitment for an additional $15 million,” Trotter adds, for a total of $90 million to cover the rise in costs of labor and skill.

“We want minority’s participation on this project, and not just oversight,” he says. “We want to see people contracted, doing that work all the way through to the architectures to workers on the site itself.”