SOUTH LOOP — A city zoning committee voted Monday to allow the construction of a British School of Chicago in a vacant lot behind the Roosevelt Collection mall in the South Loop.
The Lincoln Park school's decision to build a publicly accessible park atop the building should make residents grateful, because they might otherwise not have gotten a park at all, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said Monday before taking the vote on a planned development amendment to allow the school's construction.
The Chicago Park District "was never interested" in taking over responsibility for developing and maintaining a park at the site, despite promises of a 2.2 acre green space that residents have clung to for months of back-and-forth with McCaffery Interests, which owns the Roosevelt Collection and the surrounding land, Solis said.
Parents from the British School and a representative from the South Loop Education Task Force came out to voice their support for the school.
"We feel like the South Loop is the perfect place for this engaged group of students and parents, and we're really excited about it," parent Samantha Cohen said during testimony before the committee.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who voted against the amendment, noted that multiple undeveloped sites in the area could house the school building.
Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president of the Near South Planning Board, said the proposed school and park "will be a great asset to the community.
"The developer has been gracious to work with us, accept our comments and address our organization," Sanchez-Carlson said in praise of the adjustments McCaffery Interests has made in the months since the rooftop park was first proposed.
"We do, however, recommend the developer continue enhancing the stairway design for a more visually open entrance," Sanchez-Carlson said.
The stairway and the issue of access to the rooftop for area residents have flashpoints since McCaffery's president Ed Woodbury pitched the compromise in January.
Many residents at Monday's zoning meeting did not support the plan. Dennis McClendon, vice president of development and planning for the South Loop Neighbors community group, detailed the original planned development in the 1990s that called for a 3-acre park.
"In time, that was negotiated down to a 2.2 acre park," McClendon said. "The new owners [are] here asking to be allowed to sell or lease the park land, and instead scatter a few amenities."
McClendon called the plan approved Monday a set of "parklike objects scattered around.
"Our neighborhood needs a real park," he said.
South Loop residents also objected to the fact that the British School, where tuition ranges from $12,100 for a half-day nursery program to $27,560 for a 12th-grade IB progam, is a private institution.
"This hearing, to me, is about broken promises," said Enrique Perez, a resident of the area who brought his kids to the meeting. "I will say for the record that our elementary school, South Loop Elementary, is crowded. ... But what we need is another public school."
Solis said his office fielded 152 letters of support and 115 letters of opposition to the proposal.
"I personally believe very, very strongly in the connection between the community and the school," McCaffery Interests CEO Dan McCaffery said, in response to questions posed by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) about public access to the green space.
Solis seemed to agree, and said that there's no shortage of green space for residents of his ward.
"The greatest park of the city, if not the country, Grant Park, where I walk my dog every night, is also very close to the community," he said.
Solis said that Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Ald. Will Burns (4th) both told him they support the amendment.