SOUTH LOOP — The new South Loop Elementary School could look something like this.
City officials have revealed a rendering — and a substantially higher budget — for the new four-story elementary school underway at 16th and Dearborn streets as various public approval measures such as its funding churn through City Hall.
Chicago Public Schools plans a school for 1,200 kids with 50 classrooms, two computer labs, two art rooms and a rooftop play area, among other amenities. The school at 1601 S. Dearborn St. would house classes for kindergarten through eighth grade and is expected to open in fall 2019.
When it does, it'll have expanded boundaries too, serving virtually all of Downtown south and east of the Chicago River and stretching much farther south than previously proposed, alarming parents at the neighboring National Teachers Academy.
Janice Jackson, chief education officer for CPS, told neighbors at an aldermanic town hall meeting in Washington Park last week that the neighborhood school's boundaries will expand four block south, from 18th Street to 22nd Street (or Cermak Road):
A parent who attended the meeting made these now & later South Loop attendance boundary maps.
“I know that’s not what everyone wants to hear, but I don’t want to drag out the conversation when I know the direction the district is going in, which is extending the boundaries to 22nd Street,” Jackson said.
The teachers academy, 55 W. Cermak Road, has 687 students enrolled from prekindergarten through eighth grade. It's a neighborhood school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a non-profit that manages 30 other CPS schools. National Teachers Academy is a relatively new school that opened in 2002 and sits on a large lot near two "L" stops on Cermak Road.
Michael Passman, a spokesman for CPS, said: "We want to make sure that a diverse group of neighborhood residents and children can attend South Loop, and we will also work on a plan to strengthen [National Teachers Academy] so that it continues to effectively serve the community."
Some teachers academy parents are skeptical and have started a letter-writing campaign to CPS and their neighborhood aldermen.
"While we agree that all CPS students have the right to learn in classrooms that are not overcrowded, we believe the district's proposal to spend nearly $60 million to build a new campus for an existing school is the most expensive option to alleviate this issue," the letter reads.
The new South Loop Elementary School's cost was pegged at $55 million last year, with $10.7 million in tax increment financing going toward the project. The project cost is now estimated to be nearly $63 million, according to a funding ordinance under consideration by the City Council, and upward of $48 million in TIF money could now be used.