DUNNING — Discussions are underway to finalize plans for a new junior high and high school near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road in Dunning, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said.
The new school would not admit students based on test scores, Sposato said at a meeting about crime with Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, where he was asked about overcrowding at schools throughout the Far Northwest Side.
"There's nothing official," Sposato told the crowd, which applauded when he said there are no plans for it to be a selective-enrollment school.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office has participated in the discussions about building the new school, Sposato said.
"We're busting at the seams out here," Sposato said. "And there's no decent high school for folks to send their kids to."
The school would be funded by the City Council's decision nearly a year ago to extend the Dunning Tax Increment Financing District for another 12 years, which is expected to generate $60 million, according to estimates from the city's Department of Planning and Development. The district's budget earmarks $47 million for "public improvement and public facilities."
A new high school — which has been a proposal without plans for years — could help 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, 3,212 students attended class in a building meant for 2,184 pupils during the 2015-16 school year, according to data released by Chicago Public Schools officials.
Despite being overcrowded, Taft is considered a "high performing" school and "a good school choice" for parents, according to CPS academic rankings.
Unlike Taft, Steinmetz College Prep High School in Belmont-Cragin — which draws students from parts of Dunning — is underutilized, operating at only 70 percent of its capacity, according to CPS data. The school has the fourth lowest of the five CPS academic rankings.
A new junior high school at Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue would also relieve overcrowding at Far Northwest Side elementary schools, which are also among the most crowded in the city.
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 Dunning 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.
City officials put plans on hold in 2015 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.
The need for a new high school was a campaign issue in the 2015 38th Ward aldermanic race, with most candidates agreeing that a new school would boost property values and attract families with young children.
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