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Prussing Annex A Key Step In Stemming School Overcrowding, Emanuel Says

By Alex Nitkin | February 2, 2017 6:30am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel discusses construction plans designed to ease school overcrowding on the Far Northwest Side.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel discusses construction plans designed to ease school overcrowding on the Far Northwest Side.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

JEFFERSON PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. John Arena (45th) gathered parents at Prussing Elementary School Wednesday night to unveil the payoff for their higher property taxes.

Over the next two years, Chicago Public Schools will dedicate about $24 million to renovating the school, 4650 N. Menard Ave., and adding a permanent eight-room annex. It's the biggest of five projects Arena announced for schools in his ward last month, including a new pre-kindergarten center and three new turf athletic fields.

The property tax hike approved by the City Council in October 2015 — the largest in the city's history — included $45 million set aside to relieve overcrowding in schools across the city.

"It's not popular to raise fees to pay for something," Emanuel said. "But there's a number of schools on the Northwest Side that will need additions ... and thanks to the 2015 budget, we were able to make one of our largest investments right here in this area."

With more than 700 students in a building only built to teach 420, Prussing is a poster child for chronic school overcrowding on the Far Northwest Side. Between annexes at Oriole Park Elementary School and Wildwood Elementary School, and a $75 million freshmen campus just announced for Taft High School, CPS is increasingly turning to construction as a remedy for congestion.

Prussing's annex will likely be similar to Wildwood's, with six classrooms, a lunch room and a "multi-purpose room," Public Building Commission director Carina Sanchez said.

The annex will be built in the place of two aging modular buildings behind the school, while leaving in place a $2.1 million cluster of six "temporary classrooms" built in 2015, Arena said.

"With a new lunch room, that opens the possibility of converting the current lunch room into more classrooms, potentially opening up more space," Arena said after the meeting. "A big part of this process is going to be the [Local School Council] working with [the city] to figure out what's the best way to maximize space for students."

But it's not yet clear how space will be used during the construction process, which officials pegged anywhere from 1½ to three years, leaving Laurie Lugardo wondering where her third-grade daughter would study.

"My daughter is studying in one of those modules right now," Lugardo told Arena during a question-and-answer section of the meeting. "So if those are knocked down, and the school is being renovated, where is she supposed to go?"

CPS would consider renting space outside the school to accommodate students if necessary, Arena said.

Other projects announced for nearby schools include:

• The district will spend $4.3 million to open a pre-kindergarten center in St. Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., whose students were merged into the new St. Francis Global Academy last year.

The new school will "open up one or two classrooms of space in schools all over the area," Arena said.

• Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave., will get a $1.5 million new turf field, thanks in part to funding from the Portage Park TIF district.

Next to the sports field will be a public green space operated by the Chicago Park District.

• Farnsworth Elementary School, 5414 N. Linder Ave., will also get a turf field, thanks to a grant from the city's water management department and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

• Hitch Elementary School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave., will have its grass field and surrounding track replaced by a turf field.

Officials are aiming to have all the work completed in time for the 2018-19 school year, Arena said.