CHICAGO — A six-classroom annex at Prussing Elementary School, 4650 N. Menard Ave., and a new pre-kindergarten center are among a suite of improvements designed to ease overcrowding at Northwest Side Schools by summer 2018, Ald. John Arena (45th) announced Monday.
The alderman crystallized plans that district officials had teased in December, when they announced they'd dedicate more than $50 million toward area school improvements and additions in 2017.
Of that sum, about $4.3 million will pay for a long-term lease and renovation of St. Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., to turn it into a feeder preschool for at least four nearby district elementary schools, according to Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.
Other improvements include new turf fields for Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Farnsworth Elementary School, Brugh said. In addition, Hitch Elementary School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave., will have its grass field resurfaced.
All told, the district will spend about $36 million on schools in the 45th Ward, Brugh said. Also sprinkled into the funding mix will be money culled from tax increment financing, Arena's discretionary budget and, for Farnsworth, a $1 million grant from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
All the projects were part of a strategic plan devised by Arena and buttressed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to head off rampant school overcrowding in the 45th Ward, Brugh said.
"The overcrowding is a function of the fact that we have some very good schools here, and the alderman has long advocated an area-wide plan to give them what they need," Brugh said. "So being able work with [Chicago Public Schools], the mayor and the archdiocese on that goal was fantastic, and we're excited to see everyone help push in that direction."
Details on each project follow:
Prussing Elementary School
In addition to the six-classroom annex, lunch room and "multipurpose room" being added to Prussing, the school will undergo a $13 million renovation to its main building, Brugh said.
The refurbishment will address "a ton of deferred maintenance" on the school, mostly related to roofing and insulation, he said. The funding doesn't include the cost of the school's new boiler, installed in 2015 after a gas leak sent more than 80 students to the hospital.
When rumors of the annex first leaked in August 2016, many parents and administrators were shocked to hear that Prussing would get a permanent annex, considering that the district had spent $2.1 million on mobile classrooms for the school just a year earlier.
The annex is an "all-around win" for the school, according to Phil Huckelberry, a community representative on Prussing's Local School Council.
"It's not just that it increases student capacity — it's that it relieves a lot of the daily burden that getting in the way of everything happening at the school," Huckelberry said. "The new lunch room, especially, is really badly needed. The way it is now, you can't get everyone through."
More than 700 students now attend Prussing, a school built to hold 420 students.
Pre-Kindergarten Center at St. Cornelius
St. Cornelius was one of two parochial schools that merged into the new St. Francis Global Academy last year, leaving them vacant for the 2016-17 school year.
The other closed school, Our Lady of Victory, 4434 N. Laramie Ave., is larger than St. Cornelius, but district officials chose the latter because "the space is better configured for pre-K," Brugh said. It's also closer to Hitch, Prussing, Farnsworth and Beaubien Elementary School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave., which will all use the preschool center as a "feeder."
"Those schools are all overcrowded, so this gave us the opportunity to address them all at once, using tax dollars in the most efficient way," Brugh said.
Turf Field at Schurz High School
Circling Schurz's new turf soccer field will be a resurfaced track, all encompassing a plan that's been on the school's wish list for at least a year.
The field is set to include a small area "open for community use" and operated by the city park district so that students don't have to cross a major street to get to the nearest public green space, Brugh said. But the current plan would not vacate the 4200 block of West Addison Street, which had been part of a previous design.
Revenue from the Portage Park TIF district will help pay for the project, projected to cost around $1.5 million, Brugh said.
Turf Field at Farnsworth Elementary School
Farnsworth currently has no green space whatsoever, and it's getting a turf field without a dollar of funding from the school district. Instead, the bulk of the cost will be covered by a grant from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which helps schools create "more permeable surfaces" to absorb water runoff, Brugh said.
The project will also pull in about $300,000 from the Elston/Armstrong TIF district and $100,000 from Arena's discretionary budget, honoring a commitment from a previous year's participatory budgeting process, Brugh said.
Resurfaced Grass Field at Hitch Elementary School
The school's grass field is going to be "upgraded" to make it "safer and more accessible," Brugh said, noting that in the years since it was first landscaped, asphalt and concrete have made the surface choppy and uneven.
Arena and Emanuel will formally announce all the projects together at an event tentatively set for Feb. 2, Brugh said.
School officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
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