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Decatur School's Move to Uptown 'Less Likely' To Happen, LSC Chair Says

By Mina Bloom | July 29, 2015 8:56am
 Stewart School, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave.
Stewart School, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave.
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Metropolitan Planning Council

UPTOWN — Thanks to a lack of funding, plans to move Decatur Classical School to the former Stewart Elementary School in Uptown are looking tenuous, but the Local School Council chairman at Decatur says he's not ready to give up on the site.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said in an email to constituents Friday he can't support state or school district dollars going toward the selective-enrollment school's expansion to the old Stewart school building while Uptown's existing neighborhood schools face drastic budget cuts. 

"My priority is making sure that our neighborhood schools receive the funding they need to support the children in our ward," Cappleman said.

Now Cappleman is asking Chicago Public Schools to open up the bidding process at the Stewart site, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave., to developers and other interested parties, according to Tressa Feher, the alderman's chief of staff.

Mina Bloom explains why the potential move might not happen:

With Cappleman opening up the bidding process, it is becoming "less likely that Decatur will end up" at the Stewart site, according to Tim McCaffrey, the Local School Council chairman at Decatur. However, he said he's "not giving up until the building is actually sold."

"Things can change between now and then. If the state gets its budget worked out, then we could find some money there. It's also possible the [request for proposal] process might not generate the types of returns they're hoping for," McCaffrey said.

Originally, Cappleman supported Decatur's plans to move to Uptown, calling it the "perfect opportunity." In fact, he put the bidding process on hold last fall to ensure that Decatur was able to thoroughly research the Stewart site as a possibility. 

The West Rogers Park school has long sought to add a seventh and eighth grade, considering three options: expanding in its current location at 7030 N. Sacramento Ave.; creating a second school using Decatur's model; or moving into an existing school building. 

Last year, some Uptown residents objected to using money from an Uptown TIF district to move and expand another neighborhood's school. 

Finding ways to use Stewart has been an issue since the school board voted in 2013 to close it along with 49 other schools. At a public meeting last year, Uptown residents said they thought the best use for Stewart was another CPS school, according to Feher.

One thing is for certain: Decatur is not expanding into the other shuttered school CPS identified as a good option, Lyman S. Trumbull Elementary School in Andersonville. Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) pointed to a lack in funding needed to fix up the school.

"We're running into a lack of funding pretty much everywhere we turn," McCaffrey told DNAinfo Chicago. "Money is difficult to come by these days and it's a necessary thing to get done what we need to get done."

Though its enrollment is expected to stay the same, Decatur is facing budget cuts, too. The school will lose $183,491, a 9.42 percent decrease from last year, according to the data.

"We're working with the Local School Council to plug those holes wherever we can. It isn't a great time to be making calls to CPS and politics, asking for money," he said.

Despite the setback, McCaffrey said the council will not stray from its mission of offering more seats at Decatur. 

"We're a strong school and we have facility limitations that prevent us from being stronger," McCaffrey said. "A lot of parents would be excited to send their kids to a school like Decatur."

He added: "It's been disappointing that we haven't been able to have somebody come forward and say 'Look, I've got finally got the money to get this done' because I think this is a school that would really benefit from that."

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