DUNNING — Nearly 12 years ago, then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel asked Chicago Public Schools officials to build a new annex at Canty Elementary School, which he said was severely overcrowded.
Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, celebrated on Sunday the completion of the long-awaited expansion of the Dunning school, which he said would "help students at Canty live up to their full potential."
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said the first day of school at Canty, 3740 N. Panama St., would be an "awesome day" and credited parents for "beating up on CPS" at public meetings like the one in February 2014 when Local School Council member Frank Paolucci read Emanuel's letter aloud.
"That letter had been stuck in a drawer for years," Sposato said, praising the determination of parents like Stacy and Scott Babich as well as Maria Georgekos to demand an end to overcrowding at the school.
The $18 million annex — which includes 15 classrooms, a computer lab, music room, multipurpose room and administrative offices — will replace an eight-classroom temporary building and three leased classrooms that eased the space crunch at the top-rated school.
Before addressing a crowd of parents, teachers and students in the annex's new multipurpose room — where the air conditioning had yet to be turned on — Emanuel toured the annex's new kindergarten and pre-kindergarten rooms, the only classrooms furnished Sunday.
While students drew pictures of the mayor, he chatted with teacher Annette Daum, who thanked him for coming and reminded him of his 2004 letter to CPS chief executive officer Arne Duncan urging Canty's expansion. Duncan, was secretary of education under President Barack Obama when Emanuel served as the president's chief of staff.
"It has aged like a fine wine," Emanuel said of his letter, laughing and pretending to kiss his fingers.
Last year, 833 Canty students studied in a 60-year-old building meant to hold 570 students, making it among the most crowded schools in the city.
Scott Babich, the chairman of the Local School Council, thanked the mayor for fulfilling his promise as a congressman to expand the school.
Canty Principal Lucja Mirowska-Kopec said she was thrilled to have "all students under one roof."
"No more walking to the mobiles in the snow, rain and cold," Mirowska-Kopec said. "No more dance classes in the hallways."
A grassy field replaced an eight-classroom mobile building designed to relieve overcrowding at Canty Elementary School. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
But fifth-grade student Patrick Gontarz said he was most looking forward to eating lunch in an actual cafeteria rather than in the auditorium.
"It was kinda bad," Gontarz said. "We definitely needed this. It will be very exciting to have our own space."
While Canty's enrollment grew 10 percent last year, CPS officials expect it to grow this year by only five students.
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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.
A new playground was part of the school's expansion. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]