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'Teachers Village' Development Proposed For Former Von Humboldt Elementary

By Mina Bloom | November 4, 2016 6:47am | Updated on November 5, 2016 10:47am
 (from left, clockwise) A communal market, 34 for-sale units and 84 apartments are all part of the proposal.
(from left, clockwise) A communal market, 34 for-sale units and 84 apartments are all part of the proposal.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

HUMBOLDT PARK — An East Coast developer behind a development called "Teachers Village" — a mixed-use community with housing marketed toward teachers — wants to bring the concept to Humboldt Park.

Representatives from Newark, NJ-based RBH Group and nonprofit organization IFF pitched neighbors Wednesday evening on a plan to transform the former Von Humboldt Elementary, 2620 W. Hirsch St., into a mixed-use community, where teachers can live, eat, shop and take classes.

"What we're bringing here to this project is really an intersection of education and entertainment," said Ron Beit, CEO of RBH Group, who addressed about 50 neighbors in the school gym. "We're creating much more than housing for the teachers."

Under the plan, the school would be re-purposed. Some of the classrooms would remain as is and others would be converted into apartments, Beit said.

Of the proposed 84 total apartments, 20 percent of the units would be reserved as affordable, 30 percent would be reserved as middle-income and 50 percent would be reserved as market rate.

The apartments — particularly the affordable and middle-income units — would be marketed to teachers in the area, Beit said.

The proposal also calls for a parking garage with room for 132 spaces, 34 for-sale residential units along North Rockwell Street, a plaza with green space, a 15,000-square-foot market with communal seating — "not a supermarket by traditional standards," Beit emphasized — and 5,000 square feet of additional retail space.

Residents and members of the community would be able to take a range of classes — some costing money and others free — inside the building.

Beit said the types of classes would be dependent on "what the community wants, and wherever the demand is," though he did mention wine tasting, gardening and finance as possible class subjects.

The goal, he said, is to partner with community groups and local universities on curriculum.

The project is modeled after an existing RBH Group development in downtown Newark called "Teachers Village," which is made up of three charter schools, a daycare center, apartments and retail — a mixed-use development geared toward teachers.

If the project is approved by the community and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), the development team hopes to break ground by next summer, Beit said.

Beit said the project has been nearly three years in the making.

Von Humboldt closed in 2013 when the district shuttered 50 schools. In July of 2015, IFF (formerly known as Illinois Facilities Fund) bought the school for about $3.1 million and agreed to include one or more of the following components: day care programming, housing for current and retired public school teachers, office space and a cafe.

At the meeting, a few neighbors expressed concerns over the market rate units, saying the neighborhood's increasing home prices are displacing longtime residents. Many of them pressed the development team to incorporate programming for youth and longtime residents.

Jose Lopez, executive director for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, urged neighbors to support the project.

"What's the common theme across all of the public schools in the United States? You cannot retain your teachers because there is no affordable housing for your teachers," Lopez said. "This is a concept that is trying to address the issue of teacher retention in this community, but also to engage teachers so they can create a community of learners."

Calling the school site "prime real estate," Lopez said the "Teachers Village" project is a better option for the neighborhood than a massive condo building.

"This area ... let's be honest, this area is gone if we don't develop projects that begin to encourage a mixed-income community," Lopez said.

"If we didn't do this, I can tell you: This whole property would've been developed by a major developer that would totally change this community. What we're presenting is a community alternative."

Moreno did not attend the meeting. His chief of staff, Raymond Valadez, told neighbors to expect one or two more community meetings on the matter.

Wednesday's meeting came a day after the mayor's office announced plans to redevelop the school's annex into a daycare center. The two projects are not related.


A rendering of the project. [All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]


A rendering of the communal market.


The proposal calls for 34 for-sale units along North Rockwell Street.


A look at the project's layout.