WEST RIDGE — Jamieson Elementary School showcased its new multimillion dollar annex and outdoor play area at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Forrest Claypool, head of Chicago Public Schools.
The project is intended to expand the overcrowded school and cost at least $13 million. Features include 14 new classrooms, a science lab, music room, cafeteria, updates to the existing school and new outdoor amenities, among other changes.
Students, parents and members of the West Ridge community, including longtime resident and Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), packed into the new cafeteria at 5650 N. Mozart St. to perform a welcoming song for the mayor, who received an honorary Jamieson ID card from Principal Robert Baughman.
The location of the ribbon cutting — inside a usable cafeteria, the school's first in many years — carried special significance for parents, students and staff. Previously, students were forced to eat lunch in the halls and tip-toe around each other, careful not to disturb classes that were still in session nearby, mom Allison Freedland said.
"That was one of the biggest problems," Freedland said. "It's been a long time coming ... but we are just so lucky to have a great neighborhood school like this."
Nine-year-old Olivia Winkin said that although summer was her "favorite," she still thought her new school was pretty "good."
Looking out at the crowd, Emanuel said a cafeteria full of students represented how things are "supposed to be."
"This is what a cafeteria is supposed to be: you should not have one on the second floor in the middle of the hallway," Emanuel said, citing Jamieson as an example of what a "21st century education includes."
Baughman said the upgrades at the "outstanding neighborhood school" were a "game-changer" considering the spacial challenges the school had faced in the past.
"Over 20 years, we've had challenges being overcrowded," Baughman said. "Hearing-impaired children sharing rooms, walls built with book cases ... I cannot tell you how important this event is."
Jamieson isn't the only school in the neighborhood to have complained of overcrowding and nowhere comfortable for their students and staff to eat lunch and work.
Nearby Decatur Classical School has spoken out about many of the same issues: lack of a cafeteria forcing kids to eat at their desks, classes or private sessions being conducted in hallways and shared offices and a gym too small to hold its student body.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) recently proposed closing Eugene Field Elementary in Rogers Park, folding its students into Kilmer Elementary and letting Decatur take over and expand into Field's building.
Like Decatur, teachers at Jamieson have gone the extra mile and "made it work," but they "shouldn't have to," said Janice Jackson, Chief Education Officer for CPS.
O'Connor, who grew up and lives near the school, called the addition a "a wonderful tribute to the people of Chicago" and said he hopes schools like Jamieson can act as "true community centers" within neighborhoods.
"We live in a city where even in the most trying economic times, we can still try and find a way to address the needs of children and the educational quality they receive," O'Connor said.
While he conceded that "it's sometimes incongruent to talk about how tight our budget is when we stand in a multi-million dollar addition ... We continue to strive to make our schools 21st Century learning places."
The new addition to Jamieson Elementary, 5650 N. Mozart St. in West Ridge. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Baughman and Emanuel visit a class that's been renovated and is in use by an art teacher. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Students playing on the new turf before school. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Mayor Rahm Emanuel took photos with students before visiting a classroom. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
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