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New West Loop High School Should Open In Police Academy, Neighbors Say

By Ariel Cheung | August 23, 2017 5:53am
 The Chicago Police Academy, 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., hosted an open house in 2013 ahead of the Chicago Police Department accepting new applicants for the first time in three years.
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WEST LOOP — Advocates for a new high school on the Near West Side have set their sights on the soon-to-be-vacated Chicago Police Academy as the perfect place to put it.

The updated proposal for Central City High School will be discussed at a Monday meeting organized by Connecting4Communities and the West Central Association business chamber. Organizers want to start a letter writing campaign to ask city officials to back the plan.

The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Built World Chicago, 1260 W. Madison St.

The Chicago Police Academy building, 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., was built in 1976 and proclaimed "the most modern police training facility in the nation," according to a Tribune article at the time.

When it opened, the building had 22 classrooms, four lecture halls, a combination drill hall and gym and a 20-position pistol range.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to replace it with a $95 million training facility for Chicago police and fire recruits that would also absorb trainees at the fire prevention training facility at 1010 S. Clinton St. and the Fire Academy South at 1338 S. Clinton St.

It'll be some time before work could even begin on converting the police academy into Central City High School. Construction on the new Garfield Park training facility is scheduled to start in 2018 and take at least two years to complete.

Those who want to see the current academy become Central City High School say there is a need for a high-quality neighborhood high school in the area, where principals have said elementary school graduates can't always get into nearby selective enrollment schools like Whitney Young Magnet High School.

The elementary schools that would feed into the proposed Central City High School include Skinner West, Smyth, Andrew Jackson, STEM Magnet Academy, Galileo Math and Science Academy and Washington Irving, according to the 2014 version of the proposal.

South Loop Elementary was included in that proposal but now is slated to feed into a new South Loop high school, which would serve the neighborhood along with Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Armour Square and Chinatown.

Currently, Wells High School is the nearest neighborhood high school. Located at 936 N. Ashland Ave. in West Town, the Level 2+ school has just over 400 students, 92 percent of which come from low-income households. The school is underutilized, with its student body occupying just one-third of the building, according to a 2016 Chicago Public Schools report.

Other high schools within a 1.5-mile radius include eight charter or contract schools, two selective enrollment or magnet schools, three alternative schools, a military academy and Ogden International, which is outside most of the graduates' feeder school boundaries.

Since 2013, Connecting4Communities has argued that the neighborhood is lacking a quality neighborhood school with strong academic standards and a diverse student body.

Over the past 20 years, the target area has seen a drastic spike in population, but census data shows families with young children leave the area in search of better school networks, said Jeff Rosen, president of Connecting4Communities. The area is slated to get thousands of new homes and residents under plans to redevelop the ABLA public housing project as mixed income housing.

Back in 2013, advocates floated potential sites for the school in the Roosevelt Square redevelopment or the old Jones College Prep building at 606 S. State St., which remains part of the school after it expanded in 2013.

At that time, all seven aldermen who represent affected wards voiced their support for the Central City High School proposal. Three, though, are no longer in office, replaced by Alds. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Sophia King (4th) and David Moore (17th) in the past four years.

Connecting4Communities successfully lobbied to get STEM Magnet Academy built in 2011, but some neighbors were upset because the lottery-based school does not guarantee admission for local students.