NEAR NORTH — The controversial location of Barack Obama College Prep, a selective-enrollment high school announced last month, might not end up in the middle of a park after all.
According to a Chicago Reader report Friday morning, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said he and the city are "looking at several different sites to see if any of them are feasible."
The school originally was slated to be built in the middle of Stanton Park, located near Division and Halsted streets.
It is possible the Stanton Park location still will be used, but others in the Near North and Cabrini-Green neighborhood are being considered.
Neighborhood groups and Friends of the Parks argued the school should not be so close to Walter Payton College Prep and in one of the few open spaces in the neighborhood.
After a strong neighborhood backlash that questioned the plans of putting the school in the middle of the park, it appears the city is rethinking that decision.
“The announcement of a new school in this area was the first step and, as CPS has done in the past, we are engaging in a conversation with the community about potential locations within the neighborhood," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "CPS remains committed to ensuring that every child throughout the city has access to high-quality education choices and resources they need to succeed.”
In late April, Meghan Harte, a deputy chief of staff for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and head of the Obama school project, told a group of residents that there had been a "communication gap" during the process of finding a location for the school.
Neighborhood residents at the Near North Unity Program meeting argued the plans would place the school in the middle of Stanton Park, taking up 4 acres of the 5 and a half acre park.
The surprise announcement of the new school caught neighborhood groups as well as Burnett off guard.
Burnett knew the community had been involved in planning the future of the neighborhood in particular the redevelopment of the former Cabrini-Green site for years.
Stanton Park was central in those plans.
Following April's tense meeting with Harte, neighborhood groups including the Stanton Park Advisory Council, have been attempting to get in touch with the mayor's office and alderman but have had no luck, according to David Goldstein, a member of the advisory council.
"We said, hey let's go back to them and have them tell us their plan to engage the community about where this thing will actually go or we are going to have to step it up and push back," Goldstein said.
The groups emails to Harte have not been returned, and news that the mayor's office was considering moving the school was new to the group Friday afternoon.
"There hasn't been any outreach at all. It's incredibly disappointing, the lack of communication," Goldstein said. "These decisions are being made without any contact to the community."
Stanton Park had been included in Chicago Housing Authority calculations in increasing open space in the area ahead of the Cabrini-Green redevelopment.
Goldstein said if the city does decide to build the $60 million school elsewhere in the neighborhood, he hopes the process is transparent and involves taking neighborhood input.