Trumbull School Could Become Distillery, Senior Housing, Retail Complex

By Adeshina Emmanuel and Benjamin Woodard  on August 1, 2014 8:45am

 The shuttered Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, 5200 N. Ashland Ave., considered an architectural gem, has received a lot of attention from potential buyers and developers.
The shuttered Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, 5200 N. Ashland Ave., considered an architectural gem, has received a lot of attention from potential buyers and developers.
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Jessica Rodrigue

ANDERSONVILLE — What’s in store for Lyman Trumbull Elementary School? Ideas for the closed school's reuse include a distillery, senior housing complex, a charter school and a hybrid of housing, retail and nonprofit space.

The office of Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) is accepting proposals for what to do with the shuttered school from interested parties with an Aug. 15 deadline, after which area residents and community groups will review the ideas, including the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce.

"To date, we've had a distillery that wants to go in there, we've had a grocery store that wants to go in there, we've got senior housing, we've got Flats [Chicago] ... two schools that are privately owned, one that’s a charter," O'Connor told residents during a town hall meeting earlier this week at Rogers Park Montessori School, 1800 W. Balmoral Ave.

Trumbull, an architectural gem with an attractive location in thriving Andersonville, has garnered a lot of attention from potential buyers and developers. CPS closed it last year, along with 49 other city schools that officials deemed underutilized.

O’Connor’s office hasn’t said which entities are behind the proposals for the distillery, grocery store, senior housing and schools. However, Flats Chicago's Jay Michael said the Flats parent company, Cedar Street Co., is interested.

Michael said he could envision Trumbull as a mixed-use building with multi-family housing, retail space and possibly space for a large non-profit organization.

“We’re in those conversations, but we’re not sure what the best use is just yet,” Michael said.

The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce has communicated with multiple developers, but chamber executive director Ellen Shepard was tight-lipped Thursday when asked to name anyone.

She did say, however, that Trumbull is important to Andersonville's historic character, although the building isn’t protected by Chicago landmark status.

 The shuttered Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, 5200 N. Ashland Ave., considered an architectural gem, has received a lot of attention from potential buyers and developers.
The shuttered Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, 5200 N. Ashland Ave., considered an architectural gem, has received a lot of attention from potential buyers and developers.
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Trumbull School

"The best-case scenario would use the existing historic structure," Shepard said.

At the town hall meeting and throughout the community, neighbors have feared that the building could succumb to the wrecking ball, reduced to rubble after standing prominently at Foster and Ashland for more than a century.

It was designed by Prairie School architect Dwight Perkins, an accomplished designer of school buildings including Graeme Stewart Elementary School in Uptown, and the man behind Lincoln Park Zoo's award-winning lion house. Perkins served as the Board of Education's chief architect more than a century ago.

Tan brick, alternating between light and dark tones, form horizontal lines across Trumbull's facade. The effect adds texture and contrast to a building whose face is also lined with deep-set window reveals and massive columns framing its entrances.

"I suppose we could do away with the drama and say we're not going to knock the building down, clearly that would be easier for my life," O'Connor joked at the meeting.

O'Connor told residents that "the reason that all options are on the table is essentially because I often think it's better to just hear what's out there so you know what you're saying no to or yes to."

"If the consensus is that we want to save this building ... I'm fine with that," he said to applause.

Michael of Flats Chicago and Cedar Street said, “it’s an awesome piece of architecture, and I think would be a real pity if it ended up coming down.”

“Whoever ends up with it, I really hope that the leading bidder is someone who plans to keep the structure,” he said.

He added that a single use for the building is unlikely, that “the person who is going to use the building is going to put together several different uses.”

O’Connor’s website outlines his community involvement process for reusing Trumbull, imploring potential buyers to submit their ideas for the building to the 40th Ward by Aug. 15, before neighborhood groups and the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce reviews them.

The last phase is for community input, and will feature a meeting where "all viable proposals will be presented to area residents." After that, the alderman will let school officials know "the types of projects that our community is willing to accept," and CPS will put out a request for proposals reflecting the community's wishes, according to the 40th Ward website.

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