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'New Era' Begins at Taft With Completion of $17 Million Renovation

  The renovations to Taft were "long overdue," said Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett.
'New Era' Begins at Taft
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NORWOOD PARK — The completion of a $17 million renovation of Taft High School signals the start of a new era for the neighborhood high school, city and school leaders said Tuesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged that the poor condition of the 75-year-old building discouraged parents from sending their children to the Norwood Park high school, which he called "a diamond in the rough."

"Taft will become the choice for parents on the Northwest Side," Emanuel said, acknowledging that he understood why parents would not want to send their children to a school without working science labs and opaque windows. "This is a beautiful school with real potential."

Heather Cherone says that school officials see sunny skies ahead, and now out the window too:

Construction crews have been working since spring to overhaul nine science labs, patch crumbling brick, repair water damage and replace the school's 2,300 lockers — many of which were in use when the school opened its doors.

But perhaps the biggest change students will notice when they return to class Sept. 2 is the amount of sunlight in the building. Crews have replaced two-thirds of the school's 1,100 windows, many of which were clouded with age and impossible to see through. The rest will be replaced by November, officials said.

Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st), who lobbied the mayor and school district to fund the renovation project, said she could hear a positive "buzz" in the community about the changes at Taft.

"There was a time when Taft was not given a chance to live up to its potential," O'Connor said. "That time is history."

O'Connor praised Emanuel for ushering in a "new era" at Taft and assisting efforts to transform it into the best neighborhood high school in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett said the repairs to Taft were "long overdue."

"This is what our children deserve," Byrd Bennett said. "This is what our children need."

Gladys Recalde, a senior who introduced Emanuel at Tuesday's news conference, said she was shocked by the difference the new windows made.

"It is a much better environment," Recalde said. "When I walked into the lunchroom, it was just amazing."

Local School Council Chairwoman Lisa Schwieger said the renovation was a crucial step toward becoming the best neighborhood high school in the city.

"It is definitely better late than never," Schwieger said.

Emanuel touted Taft's transition to a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate program, saying it would provide parents a much-needed alternative to CPS' selective enrollment schools.

"IB schools will no longer be a backup for parents and students," Emanuel said, adding that the curriculum will invigorate neighborhood schools throughout the city. "Taft is a great school."

Taft Principal Mark Grishaber, who took the top job at the school July 1, has pledged to improve Taft's less-than-stellar reputation and make it one of the best schools in the state.

Taft is the most crowded high school in Chicago. During the 2014-15 school year, 3,195 Taft students attended class in a building with an ideal capacity of 2,184 students, according to data released by CPS.

For more NW-side news from Heather Cherone, listen here: