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DePaul Sticks to Deal, Nixes Longer Lease for Overcrowded Elementary School

By Paul Biasco | October 9, 2013 6:42am
 Chicago Public Schools is paying just under $200,000 to lease out six classrooms from DePaul University to ease overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary.
Chicago Public Schools is paying just under $200,000 to lease out six classrooms from DePaul University to ease overcrowding at Lincoln Elementary.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park's Lincoln Elementary School may once again be scrambling to find an overcrowding fix as its one-year lease of temporary space from DePaul University is up.

Lincoln Elementary is leasing six classrooms in DePaul's education building for the 2013-2014 year to serve the school's 809 students.

A group of parents at Lincoln has been pressuring Chicago Public Schools for a new building to solve the overcrowding issue for two years.

Lincoln Principal Mark Armendariz said CPS already is looking for alternative spaces to house students for the 2014-2015 school year and that DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, wrote a letter to the Chicago Board of Education reminding them of the one-year lease.

"According to DePaul, they really want to keep it to a one-year contract," Armendariz said. "That puts us in a cramp."

Some parents scolded DePaul for its willingness to accept $55 million of Tax Increment Financing for a new basketball arena, while charging CPS nearly $200,000 for the one-year lease on the classrooms.

"It is a huge concern," said Kim Morrow, a Lincoln Elementary parent. "I personally am really disgusted with what's gone on at DePaul."

At a LSC meeting, Armendariz said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) also was going to try to negotiate with DePaul to extend the lease.

"This is something that we all need for next year," he said. "Maybe this is something that everybody can come together to work on."

DePaul made it clear that it was a one-year lease when it was signed and that a second year would not be possible, university spokeswoman Cindy Lawson said.

Lawson said Lincoln was offered a long-term lease of between three and five years in the university's old theater building, but Lincoln declined.

The long-term option is still on the table, but that would mean a longer eight-block trek across DePaul's campus for Lincoln students.

"They knew that in making that decision that they were going to have to look for alternate arraignments come this summer," Lawson said.

The six classrooms being used by Lincoln will be needed by DePaul next year, as the school is planning to knock down McGaw Hall as part of plans to construct a new music building.

"It would be very costly for DePaul not to do this — to move forward," Lawson said.

Lincoln's enrollment of 809 for the 2013-2014 school year means that without the DePaul space, it would be 128 percent over capacity.

With the additional space, Lincoln is 108 percent overutilized this year, according to CPS data.

CPS estimates that over the next 10 years the school's enrollment will peak at 841 in 2017 and level off around 839 through 2023.

According to CPS enrollment statistics, there are 61 schools systemwide that are more overcrowded than Lincoln.

The question of how to handle the overcrowding at Lincoln has been going on for years, with some parents calling for a school to be built on the former Children's Memorial Hospital site and others suggesting redistricting the area to move students into nearby schools with lower enrollments.

Parents said the lack of up-to-date information and transparency from CPS has left them frustrated and raised tensions between groups with opposing opinions.

One parent at a recent LSC meeting accused parents who don't have children in the school of "spewing lies," about the situation.

Others said there is a hostile environment within the school between parents in favor of a new building and those opposed to it.

In July, rumors of funding for a school on the grounds of the former hospital site began circulating, and developer Daniel McCaffery, chairman and CEO of McCaffery Interests, said he was open to building a school on the site.

Since then, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced the construction of a $35 million school near overcrowded Gallistel and Addams on the Far South Side and a $15 million annex project for Wildwood Elementary, among other capital projects.

"I think in all honesty the atmosphere around the school right now is fatigue," said Eric Gurry, a Lincoln parent in favor of a new school. "We’ve been dealing with this for a long time. We still don’t have a solution. We are walking the middle-school kids to a far-away campus every day."

Opponents of a new school fear a deal between Smith and McCaffery that would allow for higher density on the proposed Children's Memorial redevelopment site in exchange for McCaffery allowing the school to be built on his land.

"It’s probably one of the more selfish self-seeking motives I've ever seen in a community," said Lincoln Park parent Thaddeus Wong. "It was a pie-in-the-sky idea that no one ever thought would materialize."

Wong claims the majority of the supporters pushing for a new school are those who live south of Armitage Avenue and would likely see their children moved to other schools if CPS chooses to ease the overcrowding by drawing new attendance boundaries for Lincoln.

There are two neighborhood schools deemed to be in "excellent standing" by CPS within a mile of Lincoln that are considered underutilized: Alcott and Oscar Mayer elementary schools.

No matter what happens, the head of Lincoln's LSC hopes tensions die down.

"Just be nice to each other," said Katie Fairbank, LSC chairwoman. "You are going to disagree. Get over it. We aren't making the decision."

Editor's note: This story contains corrected information: Lincoln Elementary parent Kim Morrow's comments were incorrectly attributed to another person in an earlier version of this story.