UPTOWN — Graeme Stewart Elementary School, deemed underutilized by Chicago's Board of Education, was closed last year despite fiery community opposition. Now, the idea of using it again as a school is being floated by community leaders and school officials on the North Side.
Officials from the Chicago Waldorf School in Rogers Park believe the Uptown building would be a great place to move their growing private school.
North Side residents filled the gym at Clarendon Park Community Center in Uptown last week for the first of three workshops about how Stewart, at 4525 N. Kenmore Ave., will be used.
Waldorf officials at the meeting were up front about their plans to occupy Stewart, one of 50 schools closed last year by Chicago Public Schools.
"That's our agenda," said Robert Wild, a member of Waldorf's board of trustees. "We have a vision, and that building is just so unique."
Adeshina Emmanuel discusses Stewart's future on DNAinfo Radio:
The building gets high marks from architects and preservationists for its design by Prairie School architect Dwight Perkins.
Waldorf, at 1300 W. Loyola Avenue, has about 355 kids from preschool to high school. It operates primarily in a small school building connected to a church, and is squeezed for space, Wild said.
Wild said he doesn't know how much it would cost for Waldorf to acquire Stewart and get a school running there. But "we would make it happen" he said, adding that he planned to use Tax Increment Financing, private funds and fundraising campaigns to do so.
Waldorf would "attract families to Uptown," something that would make for a more vibrant community and "help deter crime," Wild said.
CPS officials did not respond to requests for comment about Waldorf's plans.
While Waldorf offers tuition adjustment and some financial aid, annual tuition for elementary students is about $16,000, and tuition for the high school program is about $18,000.
Huddled with other community organizers and activists after the meeting, North Side Action 4 Justice's Karen Zaccor complained that Waldorf's tuition would be out of range for poor families in Uptown.
"That's not a public opportunity," Zaccor said.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) announced at the workshop that he's been in talks with CPS about the possibility of Stewart being used as a public school again, which he thinks would provide the most community benefit.
"My No. 1 priority for Stewart school is that it be a CPS school, preferably a magnet," Cappleman said.
His chief of staff, Tressa Feher said "It's about wanting to keep a school a school, that would be the best thing."
CPS didn't respond to requests for comment about the plausibility of Cappleman's proposal, or how it would justify opening a school in the Stewart building after recently closing it. Some residents at the meeting said it would defy logic to reopen the school.
Cappleman told residents they should still consider other uses for the building and not put all their eggs in one basket. Other ideas for the building included using it as a community center, theater, retail space, small business incubator or residential development.
For more information about the development workshops, scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Monday at the Clarendon Park Community Center and May 29, click here.