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Bridge Elementary — City's 2nd Most Crowded — To Get 8 New Classrooms: Ald.

DUNNING — Bridge Elementary School in Dunning — the second-most overcrowded elementary school in the city — will get an eight-classroom modular building to relieve severe overcrowding, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) announced Thursday.

The $7 million modular building will be built in what is now the school's parking lot at 3800 N. New England Ave. It is scheduled to open in September 2017, Sposato said.

"Everyone was real thrilled," Sposato said. "I'm glad the mayor and school district leaders are listening to my community."

 [38th Ward Office]

However, the temporary classrooms won't be enough to consolidate the elementary school onto one campus, Sposato said.

The school's junior high will remain separated from the lower grades in the former school at St. Priscilla, 7001 W. Addison St., which closed in 2012. The school will also continue to use its existing four-classroom modular building, Sposato said.

Once the new modular building opens, it will house the school's youngest students as well as an expanded lunchroom, Sposato said.

During the 2015-16 school year, 1,108 students attended class at Bridge in a main building meant for 480 students, putting it at 231 percent capacity. Even with 14 extra classrooms, the school had an adjusted utilization rate of 137 percent, the second highest in the city and the highest on the Northwest Side.

"This is a cheap way to do an addition," Sposato said. "They are so jammed in there now."

The alderman said he did not know how CPS and city officials planned to pay for the addition, but said it would not be funded by the Dunning Tax Increment Financing District, which does not include the school.

"I didn't ask," Sposato said. "If someone wants to give me something, I'm not going to ask too many questions."

A Chicago Public Schools spokesman did not answer questions Thursday evening about how the new classrooms would be paid for.

Sposato said he began discussing how to relieve the severe overcrowding at Bridge with Mayor Rahm Emanuel last fall. Initially, Sposato said he asked the mayor to build a permanent addition to Bridge Elementary.

But Sposato has also been pressing city officials to build a new junior high and high school near Oak Park Avenue and Irving Park Road in the heart of Dunning that would relieve overcrowding at elementary schools throughout the Far Northwest Side as well as Taft High School

Taft is expected to remain the most crowded public high school in Chicago during the 2016-17 school year, according to the projections released as part of CPS' breakdown of each school's budget.

"But the mayor said he couldn't do both — build an addition and a new junior high and high school," Sposato said. "This is a compromise."

Sposato said Thursday he hoped plans for the new junior high and high school would be announced next fall.

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."

However, Sposato acknowledged that the push for the new school is complicated by the fact that Steinmetz College Prep High School in Belmont-Cragin — which draws students from parts of Dunning — is expected to have approximately 850 empty seats, according to CPS data.

Bridge's enrollment, which grew 15 percent last year, is expected to slow this year, along with most other schools on the Far Northwest Side, according to CPS enrollment projections and rise just 2.3 percent.

Nearly half of all public elementary and high schools on the Far Northwest Side are overcrowded, according to data released by CPS officials.

An $18 million annex at Canty Elementary School in Dunning is scheduled to open in September.

City officials also plan to expand Byrne Elementary School in Garfield Ridge and build new schools in Clearing and the South Loop.

That angered and disappointed parents of students at Ebinger Elementary School, who have been asking CPS officials to expand the Edison Park school for more than three years.

Emanuel has repeatedly said CPS must address overcrowding "to ensure our students will live up to their full potential” and said it is unacceptable for students to be forced to study in hallways and closets.

News of the new classrooms was unveiled at a meeting of the Bridge Elementary Local School Council, said Sposato, who announced the news in an email to 38th Ward residents Thursday afternoon.

Members of the news media were not informed of the meeting, which was not listed on the Local School Council's website.

When school officials announced plans to build an addition to Skinner West Elementary School in the West Loop, reporters were barred from the meeting.

That violated the Open Meetings Act, said Don Craven, longtime attorney for the Illinois Press Association.

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