EDISON PARK — Students at Edison Park Elementary School will no longer have to study in hallways, the cafeteria and on the auditorium stage.
With the competition of a long-awaited annex, parents, school leaders and elected officials Monday celebrated an end to overcrowding at the Edison Park school.
Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) called the celebration — held in one of the new classrooms in the two-story annex — "bittersweet," noting that parents and school officials had been urging school officials to build an annex for nearly five years.
"For parents, this building is more than just brick and mortar," O'Connor said. "It is a vision for the future, and one with endless possibilities."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said students should never have had to study in hallways or cafeterias, and praised the school for regaining its top ranking despite the space crunch and the chaos of the construction.
"The teachers and administrators plowed forward through some really adverse situations," Emanuel said. "I know great things are happening here at Edison Park."
The $14 million annex is designed to serve approximately 315 students and includes nine classrooms, a science classroom, a kitchen and cafeteria. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms will be located in the "badly needed" annex, said Principal Pete Zimmerman.
As part of the project, a kindergarten classroom and the kitchen in the main building will be renovated, as well as and an outdoor playlot.
The annex opened just as the school had completely run out of space, Zimmerman said. The gym was converted into a classroom in the fall, classes began being held on the auditorium stage and students had to eat lunch at their desks, he added.
"We were stealing classrooms," Zimmerman. "It got worse each year."
Before the annex was constructed, the school’s ideal capacity was 300 students. However, 474 students attend the school, giving it a utilization rate of 158 percent, up from the school’s 2013 utilization rate of 151 percent, according to data from Chicago Public Schools.
"This annex has changed our world," Zimmerman said. "It is everything we could have asked for. It is a very impressive building."
After 23 years as Edison Regional Gifted Center, the school became a neighborhood school in an effort to reduce overcrowding at Oriole Park Elementary School in Norwood Park and Ebinger Elementary School in Edison Park.
Edison Park Elementary School is the first of three schools in the 41st Ward to get an addition to alleviate severe overcrowding. Construction is expected to start this spring on annexes for Oriole Park Elementary School and Wildwood Elementary School in Edgebrook.
To convince school officials to build an annex at the school, parents and community leaders conducted a quiet campaign of letters and emails, Zimmerman said.
The annex will allow the school to accommodate the growth in the number of school-age children in the area, Zimmerman said.
The Chicago Public Schools is on track to spend $73 million improving schools throughout the 41st Ward, O'Connor said, praising Emanuel for keeping his promise to her to find money for local schools.
Eileen Shea Durkin, a member of Edison Park Elementary's Local School Council, said her son — who had been studying in hallways — was thrilled to return to school after winter break and find his classes in the new annex.
"He's ecstatic," Shea Durkin said. "He can't believe how much space there now is."
The next battle at Edison Park Elementary School is to find enough money to hire more teachers to allow classes to be smaller than 30 students, Shea Durkin said. Next fall, all four of Shea Durkin's children will attend Edison Park.
"That's next," Shea Durkin said.