WEST LOOP — Officials from two public agencies revealed new renderings of a multimillion dollar expansion at Skinner West Elementary School in a closed-door meeting last week.
Top Chicago Public Schools and Public Building Commission leaders said the 25,000-square-foot addition will add a total of 15 classrooms to the prestigious CPS school in the West Loop.
The 15 classrooms will include eight standard classrooms, a computer lab, science lab, art room, special education classrooms and "pull-out spaces," according to the preliminary renderings. Skinner West currently has 38 classrooms, including five classrooms at a branch location.
The $20 million expansion will be funded with public tax dollars and is expected to be completed in September 2018, CPS said in a statement. Construction is slated to begin in summer 2017.
Although the addition is planned to be three stories, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) told parents he is working to secure funding for an additional floor to ensure the new building keeps up with expected demand in the booming West Loop, Matthew Letourneau, a member of the Skinner West Local School Council, wrote on Facebook.
Burnett could not be reached for comment.
Proposed renderings show what the Skinner West expansion could look like. [Public Building Commission]
Current Skinner West parents, teachers and staff were invited to the Nov. 16 meeting, but West Loop residents who are not Skinner West parents — or other members of the public, for that matter — were not notified of the meeting ahead of time, making it impossible for them to attend as CPS officials revealed important details about the $20 million taxpayer-funded project.
"All parents, teachers and staff are invited to attend a Skinner West Addition/Annex meeting with the Public Building Commission at Skinner on Wed., Nov. 16th at 6:00 p.m.," a message from the school read.
While the Skinner West LSC meets on the third Tuesday of every month, a meeting that by law is open to the public, officials decided to instead reveal the Skinner West expansion renderings in the meeting on Nov. 16, one night after the LSC's monthly meeting on Nov. 15.
According to an outline of the presentation, Burnett, Skinner West Principal Deborah Clark, Mary DeRuntz, chief of capital improvements at CPS, and Felicia Davis, executive director of the Public Building Commission, spoke at the meeting. Skinner West Local School Council members were also present.
In a a statement, CPS officials said LSC members who attended the Public Building Commission presentation decided to attend as parents, not in their official capacity as LSC members, which would have made the meeting subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and would have required CPS to provide advance public notice of it.
"As part of the process to develop an annex at Skinner West that would relieve overcrowding and improve academic resources at the school, the City's Public Building Commission is meeting with parents to provide updates on the status of the project," CPS spokesman Michael Passman wrote.
Attorney Maryam Judar, an expert on the Illinois Open Meetings Act and executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, a group dedicated to making government more accountable, said CPS can't subvert the Open Meetings Act by claiming LSC members are "wearing a different hat."
"That decision-making power doesn't go away just because [CPS] says 'Now they are parents,'" Judar said.
Upon request, Public Building Commission spokesman Bryant Payne released the Skinner West presentation to DNAinfo Chicago Tuesday. The full slideshow is below.
The most recent closed-door meeting at Skinner West comes after CPS security barred reporters from entering the public meeting in July where Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city's plan to expand the overcrowded school. At the time, one media expert said the move to keep reporters out of was a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Part selective-enrollment school, part neighborhood school, Skinner West is bursting at the seams, parents report. Class sizes have swelled to 40 students in some cases, according to the Local School Council. In recent years, Skinner's LSC made a number of cuts in an effort to address overcrowding, including cutting classical classes and preschool programs.
The move to expand Skinner comes just seven years after the school was rebuilt with the help of TIF funding to add a neighborhood component and three years after the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 Chicago schools, including many on the West Side.
The Skinner West building expansion will be added to the rear of the existing building at West Monroe and South Throop streets. [Public Building Commission]
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.