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Stewart School Reuse Proposals Include Apartments, Community Center, More

 Uptown residents have an array of ideas for reusing shuttered  Graeme Stewart School  — and hope Stewart falls to a developer that cares when Chicago Public Schools approves a buyer later this year.
Stewart School Reuse
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UPTOWN — The future of the shuttered Graeme Stewart School campus remains uncertain, but Uptown residents' wishlist for the site includes a new school and community center, affordable and market rate housing and a movie theater.

Residents put their thinking caps on last month for a series of three Metropolitan Planning Council workshops at Clarendon Park Community Center, 4501 N. Clarendon Ave., aimed at producing feasible visions of the building's future with feedback from urban planners and developers.

Adeshina discussed early proposals for Stewart on DNAinfo Radio:

Groups of Uptown residents produced eight proposals, with between 60-100 people attending each workshop. 

One of the proposals was a $30 million school and community space devoted to a theater, arts training, daycare and other uses.

Stewart's parking lot would be used for a six-story residential building with retail and 120 parking spaces. There would be 68 units of rental housing, 60 percent market rate and 40 percent affordable, with open green space on the roof.

Uptown resident Brian Haynes, a 34-year-old architectural designer, said he likes the idea because of "the community aspect," and because it would preserve the architecturally renowned Stewart building, designed by Dwight Perkins.

Stewart was one of 50 schools closed by CPS last year. The four-story, 90,400 square-foot building is landmark-eligible and sits at 4525 N. Kenmore Ave.

Uptown resident Samantha Kearney, 28, is happy to see "how people are interested in having a mixture of affordable housing and market rate" on the Stewart campus.

"Mixed income communities in Uptown really make sense," Kearney said. "Uptown is a leader in having affordable housing."

Another proposal would cost $21 million and use Stewart primarily as a school with non-profit space for youth arts training and 5,280 square feet of retail. The parking lot would be used for a 30-unit apartment complex that would include affordable housing.

There's also an idea to use the parking lot to build a three-story complex with a movie theater and clothing store on the first two floors, mental health, job training and veteran services on the top floor and a 60 parking spaces on the rooftop.

Stewart would become a 63-unit apartment building with all affordable units on the top three floors and ground level non-profit space.

The project would cost about $23.6 million, with all but $5.8 million covered by revenues, a significant financing gap that developers said a 30-70 split between affordable and market rate housing would help close.

The sole residential-only proposal produced would cost $32 million to build a nine-story building with 161 rental units, 70 percent market rate and 30 percent affordable housing on the Stewart parking lot.

Because of its high density, mix of incomes and levels of internal parking, it's the only idea without a funding gap, according estimates. But many Uptown residents at the workshops showed an aversion to putting such a large building next to Stewart, worried the handsome building would be overshadowed.

CPS said it is required to sell the property to the highest bidder, that Stewart will be sold "as is" and that community meetings as well as aldermanic input will be considered as the school district puts together a request for proposals and starts reviewing bids later this year.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) has said he wants Stewart to reopen as a public magnet school drawing enrollment from across the city, and that recent talks with CPS indicated the school district is interested.

That would cost $12 million, and Cappleman said he has "no idea" if CPS can spare that. Chicago Waldorf School in Rogers Park has shown interest in moving into Stewart as well.

Uptown resident Walter Fisher, 62, said residents' proposals should "weigh heavily" on decisions made by CPS given "what happened the past year as far as transparency, as far as community input."

He was alluding to last year's school closings despite fiery community opposition, "and the political fallout as a result of that."

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