LINCOLN SQUARE — Lycee Francais Chicago opened its gleaming new $35 million, 3.8-acre campus at Wilson and Damen avenues with a ribbon-cutting celebration Tuesday.
The snip of several pairs of ceremonial scissors not only signaled the start of the school year for Lycee students but the near completion of a decade-long transformation of the former site of Ravenswood Hospital.
With its 86,000-square-foot building — room enough for more than 700 students — and outdoor activity areas, the French school, 1929 W. Wilson Ave., now occupies approximately half of the old hospital's footprint.
Founded in 1907, Ravenswood Hospital eventually grew to encompass several buildings, including residence housing for nursing school students. Following the hospital's controversial closing in 2002, a pair of those buildings were converted to apartments and medical offices, but the main hospital structure itself remained vacant and fell into disrepair.
Lycee Francais, which had long outgrown its rented digs on Irving Park Road near the lakefront, purchased the property and began the lengthy demolition and asbestos abatement process in late 2012.
The school's presence almost closes the loop on a vision laid out in 2005 for a Ravenswood Town Center. That plan proposed medical offices, residential and day care uses, as well as a park.
Though still working out the particulars, school officials said Lycee Francais does plan to open up its grounds, including two playgrounds, a soccer field and basketball court, to the public, which nearly approximates a park.
One vacant hospital building still stands though, and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) declared his intention to make its redevelopment a priority during his second (and final) term.
"My goal is for 100 percent senior affordable housing," said Pawar. "That's a big need in the community."
As Lincoln Square and North Center become increasing desirable to homeowners and developers, seniors are being offered cash for their homes, the alderman said.
Many are selling, but then where do they move? he said.
"We owe a debt to them," Pawar said.
Situating some of the community's older residents next to the Lycee Francais would make for wonderful synergy, he said.
"I think it's a great inter-generational tie."
Take a 3-D tour of Lycee Francais' new home and watch a time-lapse video of the building's construction.