EDGEBROOK — After years of pleading with city and school officials, Wildwood Elementary School — one of the city's most crowded schools — will get a $15 million annex, the mayor's office announced Monday.
Construction is scheduled to begin next summer on the 16-room classroom annex set to open in fall 2015, city officials.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the annex at a hastily scheduled event in Leonita Tonietto's fifth-grade classroom in front of a roomful of parents, teachers and school officials, many of whom burst into applause and tears when a proposed design of the annex was unveiled.
Patricia Payne, who has taught third grade at the Edgebrook school for 25 years, was overcome with emotion after seeing the design.
"We have just worked so hard for this," Payne said, wiping away tears.
Last year, 420 students were enrolled at the school, though the building's "ideal capacity" called for 240 students, based on Chicago Public Schools standards. That gives the school a utilization rate of 175 percent, one of the highest in the city.
Emanuel praised Wildwood Principal Mary Beth Cunat and school leaders for coping with the overcrowding but still recording some of the highest test scores in the city.
"This is long overdue," Emanuel said, adding Wildwood has needed an annex for decades. "You shouldn't have to shuffle kids from one classroom to the other."
The school is so crowded that it has held classes in the hallway, and students are forced to eat lunch at their desks because the cafeteria has been turned into a classroom.
Enrollment at the school, which offers a magnet program and an International Baccalaureate curriculum, is expected to grow for the next three to four years, Cunat said.
Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) praised Emanuel for keeping his promise to relieve overcrowding throughout the far Northwest Side.
In the spring, Wildwood parents and officials were incensed that money for an annex was not included in the district's 2013-14 budget, and vowed to redouble their efforts to persuade city and school officials of the need for the annex.
In response to their complaints, CPS officials redesigned Wildwood to maximize classroom space, an effort that has eased the space crunch this year, said Cunat, who has twice been honored as one of the best CPS principals and given a bonus of $5,000.
The news comes after the Cunat said it would lose $75,000 to $98,000 from its budget due to a drop in attendance based on a headcount taken on the 10th day of school this year.