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4 Sites in Play for Near North Selective-Enrollment High School

By Paul Biasco | June 9, 2015 6:17am | Updated on June 9, 2015 8:13am
 Terri Haymaker, chief planning officer for the city's Public Building Commission, discusses the four proposed sites for a Near North Side  selective-enrollment high school Monday night.
Terri Haymaker, chief planning officer for the city's Public Building Commission, discusses the four proposed sites for a Near North Side selective-enrollment high school Monday night.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

NEAR NORTH — It's back to square one in the quest to find a home for the upcoming selective-enrollment high school formerly known as Obama College Prep.

The school, which officials are now referring to generically as Near North High School, will be located on one of four sites.

The $60 million school was first announced as Barack Obama College Prep in April 2014, and plans called for building it in Stanton Park.

After community outrage over the location and lack of community involvement in the planning process for the school, the city launched a wider search for a location.

In January, 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett said a location on the eastern bank of the Chicago River near Division Street was the top choice.

On Monday, the city's Public Building Commission appeared at a community meeting for the first time to discuss the project, revealing that it is considering four sites for the school.

Paul Biasco says we're back to square one with this project:

One of those sites is still the riverfront location, but where the school ultimately lands will be  determined by a number of factors, including cost, who owns the proposed site and how suitable the land is for a school.

The commission considered 12 sites for the school after the original location was dismissed, according to Terri Haymaker, chief planning officer for the commission.

The sites being considered include the original parcel in the middle of Stanton Park; a parcel including Durso Playlot Park on the former Cabrini-Green public housing site; the riverfront site at Kingsbury and Division streets; and a site at the intersection of Larrabee Street and Clybourn Avenue.

Each location presents its own issues, and it's going to be up to the commission, and ultimately the Chicago Board of Education, to find a balance that fits the budget.

The riverfront site, which Burnett favors, is private land and is now a parking lot. That land would be costly, and the city would have to buy it.

The Stanton Park site consists of land owned by the Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools.

The Durso Playlot Park site includes CHA land and Park District land.

The site at Larrabee and Clybourn, directly east of Skinner North Classical School, is all CHA land.

"The site along the river is going to have an extra level of review because it's on the river," Haymaker said.

The commission presented the final four sites to the Near North Unity Program Monday night. The commission was scheduled to appear at the community group's meeting in January to present an update on the school project but canceled at the last minute.

Representatives from Friends of the Parks watchdog group as well as the advisory councils of Stanton Park and Seward Park were notably present for Monday's meeting as two of the four proposals included building on swaths of park land.

"I'm biased because I just want the river property," Burnett said. "I heard the community loud and clear. The [Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council] is ready to sue. ... Friends of the Parks, they are ready to sue if we touch parkland."

The only site on private land is the on riverfront, but members of the commission did not know how much the land would cost.

"There's only a certain dollar amount that's been OK'd for this project," Haymaker said.

The commission is set to consider the four sites in July to get the OK to move forward with the project.

Site selection, land acquisition and planning are expected to take as long as one year and four months, and construction of the school is expected to take two years, Haymaker said.

The city initially planned on opening the school in the fall of 2017.

Randall Blakey, the head of the Near North Unity Program and executive pastor at LaSalle Street Church, voiced concern about community involvement.

“There's concern about the removal of any parkland, and there's concern about any removal of any CHA land," Blakey said.

Haymaker said the commission understood that situation and was going to work with the CHA and Park District to find a balance in the site selection.

"Looking at a site that's on Park District or CHA land is not easy," she said. "We completely recognize that."

The selective-enrollment school, which is going to be funded with tax increment financing dollars, would serve 1,200 students, with 30 percent of those seats reserved for students from the neighborhood.

Neighborhood boundaries will be determined by CPS once the site is chosen, Haymaker said.

"This is an urban neighborhood. There's not a lot of land just sitting around, so it's going to be a challenge," Haymaker said.

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