WOODLAWN — Woodlawn will have a brand new school building for the University of Chicago Charter Schools in the fall — but it will also have a much larger vacant school to deal with.
The university is building a $27.5 million new high school at 1101 E. 63rd St., and when it moves in in the fall, the old Wadsworth building, 6420 S. University Ave., will finally be empty.
The building has been half-occupied since 2013 when CPS combined the Wadsworth and Dumas elementary schools in the Dumas building at 6650 S. Ellis Ave.
In the fall, it will be up to CPS and the community to figure out what to do with the Wadsworth building and its substantial grounds in the middle of Woodlawn.
CPS had tried to sell the building to the university, but the university never took the deal, opting to build a new school on nearby city land.
Shayne Evans, CEO of the university’s charter school system, said Monday it spent a year looking into making the Wadsworth building work for its high school.
“Wadsworth was built 100 years ago to serve elementary students and therefore lacks classroom spaces and resources necessary for high school students,” Evans said. “After over a year of exploring different ways of meeting the needs of current and prospective students, it was determined that a new facility was the best and most economically feasible option for both students and the Woodlawn community at large.”
The school has needed significant work for some time, according to a CPS building assessment. In 2012, shortly before the Wadsworth students were moved out, CPS estimated the school needed $3.9 million in upgrades to the main building and another $1.7 million in work to its two additions.
Though many of the needed repairs were listed as minor at the time, major work was needed on the roof, plumbing and electrical systems, which could dissuade potential buyers if CPS decides to sell the property.
CPS spokesman Michael Passman said officials are working with the university as it prepares to leave the Wadsworth building.
“We are evaluating potential options for the former Wadsworth building and have not finalized any decisions at this time,” Passman said.
Evans said he hopes developers see the opportunity the site offers.
“As a burgeoning community, the Woodlawn neighborhood could benefit from increased residential, commercial and retail development,” Evans said. “As a partner, UChicago Charter students, staff and families, specifically those who live in Woodlawn and surrounding areas, could benefit from additional employment opportunities that commercial and retail expansion would bring.”
He said he’s not opposed to another school moving in, but is hoping for the kind of development other neighborhoods are starting to see.
“Similar to what has been happening in Pilsen, the South Loop and Bucktown, any ideas that would also leverage space for residents to be innovative, creative, artistic would also be interesting,” Evans said.
If a developer is interested in the site, it will pose some interesting challenges because the school building sits in the middle of a block and the city would likely need to build a new street before housing could be built.
The charter school moves into its new building in the fall.
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