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Dunning TIF Extended, Could Be Used To Pay For New High School

By  Heather Cherone and Ted Cox | July 30, 2015 7:48am 

The boundaries of the Dunning TIF district will not be changed. [City of Chicago]

DUNNING — The Chicago City Council unanimously agreed Wednesday to extend the Dunning Tax Increment Financing district for another 12 years, perhaps to help pay for a proposed new high school near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road.

The TIF district, which includes mostly vacant land that was once home to a mental hospital and long-forgotten cemetery but is now in the heart of Dunning, had been set to expire at the end of the year.

There was no discussion or debate before the 48-0 vote.

The extension of the TIF district to 2027 is expected to generate $60 million, according to the proposal from the city's Department of Planning and Development. The proposed budget would earmark $47 million for "public improvement and public facilities."

A new high school — which has been a proposal without plans for years — would relieve the space crunch at Taft High School, which is the most crowded public high school in Chicago, and give parents another option besides magnet and selective enrollment high schools that are more than an hour away by public transportation.

At Taft in Norwood Park, 3,303 students are expected to attend class in a building meant for 2,184 pupils during the 2015-16 school year, according to data released by Chicago Public Schools officials.

Heather Cherone says the extension doesn't guarantee a new school:

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

The need for a new high school was a campaign issue in the 38th Ward aldermanic race, won by Ald. Nicholas Sposato, with most candidates agreeing a high-quality school was needed to give families an alternative to Chicago Public Schools' selective enrollment system. A new school would boost property values and attract families with young children, the candidates agreed.

Sposato endorsed the extension of the TIF district, which was introduced by former Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) before he retired in May.

Marc Schulman, of Eli's Cheesecake, has long advocated for an agricultural high school to be built on the largely vacant property near his headquarters. Schulman organizes a yearly job shadowing program for students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood.

The TIF district, which was established in 1991, is on the grounds of the former Chicago-Read Mental Health Center and adjacent to the Dunning-Read Conservation Area, a 23-acre oasis of wetlands and woodlands being restored to its natural state.

Work on a $70.5 million facility that will house 200 veterans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia is underway near the TIF district, but its opening has been delayed by the state budget crisis, officials said.

Plans also are in the works to build a $3 million artificial turf field next to where some officials want to see the high school built.

However, city officials put plans on hold earlier this year to rebuild Oak Park Avenue through the property after concerns were raised that the construction could disturb a long-forgotten cemetery that holds the remains of Chicago's poorest and sickest residents who died between 1890 and 1912 and were buried around the mental hospital and long-shuttered poorhouse.

The high school, if approved, would also be built on what was once the cemetery, records show.

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