MCKINLEY PARK — A charter school group’s plan to open in McKinley Park hit a snag Thursday when its request to convert a warehouse into a school was abruptly yanked from a zoning committee agenda.
Concept Charter Schools is hoping to open a K-12 school in a vacant factory at 2245 W. Pershing Road. The school would enroll up to 750 students, with a special focus on math, science and technology.
Concept's original bid to open two new schools was denied by CPS in September. But the Des Plaines-based group won an appeal in March from the Illinois State Charter School Commission to open the schools, one in Bowmanville and the other in McKinley Park.
While the proposition to open a North Side facility was met with considerable protest — neighbors opposed the group’s effort to open a school and Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) opposed a zoning change to make it possible — approval of the McKinley Park facility zoning switch was widely expected to pass without issue.
That was until an item requesting a zoning change for the vacant warehouse was unexpectedly removed from the agenda of the City Council’s zoning committee on Wednesday. The next zoning hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th) has thrown his support behind the charter group, saying it would offer more choices for students in the area's overcrowded schools. A spokeswoman for the alderman, who's out of the country, said he'll continue to back the group in light of the setback but declined further comment.
It is unclear who engineered the change in the agenda. Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who chairs the zoning committee, could not be reached for comment.
But Salim Ucan, a spokesman for Concept Charters, which operates the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park in addition to dozens of other schools across the Midwest, said the request to remove the agenda item came from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.
"This is a litmus test for the mayor to see if he’s really pro-charter, if he really supports school choice in the city, or if he just supports [charters] if they are part of CPS,” he said.
A call to Emanuel's press office was not returned.
In light of districtwide closings and consolidations, Emanuel and CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett have trumpeted charter schools as a choice for parents and students.
Ucan said if the group had received the green light to move forward, they already would’ve had to hustle to complete renovations and hire faculty in time for a September debut.
Even if the zoning decision gets pushed back another month — it would need to be finalized in a City Council meeting — opening the Horizon Science Charter School Academy McKinley Park in even a limited capacity by fall would be “close to impossible," Ucan said.
"Everything was in place. Everything was contingent upon this zoning change," he said. "We are fighting a good fight. We are fighting a fight for the kids. I wonder what fight the mayor is fighting by trying to prevent another choice?"