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Decatur School Council Backs Possible Move to Uptown's Stewart School

By  Tanveer Ali and Jackie Kostek | November 21, 2014 8:46am | Updated on November 24, 2014 8:37am

 The Decatur Classical School's local school council voted Thursday night in favor of "ongoing exploration of our potential relocation to the now closed Stewart Elementary School."
The Decatur Classical School's local school council voted Thursday night in favor of "ongoing exploration of our potential relocation to the now closed Stewart Elementary School."
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Metropolitan Planning Council (files)

WEST ROGERS PARK — The decision makers at Decatur Classical School voted Thursday in favor of a plan that could move the school to Uptown, allowing it to expand to eighth grade.

The vote to approve "ongoing exploration of our potential relocation to the now closed Stewart Elementary School" came after a formal two-year process of looking into expansion and a day after a Board of Education meeting where the issue brought out tensions on both sides.

The council tabled the issue at the two preceding meetings, but decided to go ahead with the vote Thursday after members of the expansion committee met with several relevant officials, including CPS Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell, according to some of the committee's members.

"[Tyrrell] said, 'It could be four months or four years,'" Principal Susan Kukielka said about the meeting.

Earlier Thursday, CPS officials said the proposal was only recently presented, and would ultimately need to be approved by the school board.

Finding ways to use Stewart has been an issue since the school board voted in 2013 to close it along with 49 other schools.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he hasn't reserved any TIF funds for any project that would use the building, which cannot be reopened without significant renovations.

Decatur, a selective-enrollment classical school that accepts students from throughout Chicago, has long sought to add a seventh and eighth grade to help ensure that students get into the most competitive high schools.

The school council vote came after a formal two-year process in which committee members looked at other options, including expanding the school's current building at 7020 N. Sacramento Ave., adding mobile classrooms, splitting the school in two or looking at other shuttered buildings, including Andersonville's Trumbull Elementary School and the shuttered Courtenay building in Ravenswood.

Backers of the Stewart plan said that the move to Uptown is supported by current Decatur parents.

About 70 percent of parents who were polled at a recent report card pickup said that they were in favor of exploring relocation.

But the plan isn't without opponents, who took issue with the process of choosing Stewart as a site.

Parent Jon Ross, who along with his wife, spoke in opposition of the Uptown move at Wednesday's board meeting, said that there hasn't been enough discussion about Stewart as an expansion option.

"I think 100 percent of the parents want a seventh and eighth grade, but we want it under the best of circumstances," said Ross who added that issues like crime in Uptown hadn't been adequately addressed.

Proponents of the potential move also said criticism of moving into another neighborhood, potentially taking space for neighborhood needs, was unwarranted.

Decatur "is not a neighborhood school. It is a citywide school," said parent Brian Wittenwyler, who supports the potential move. "If we move into Uptown, we aren't coming in as outsiders. We're coming in as residents of the city of Chicago."

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