Could new high school be coming to NW Side by 2018?




by BRIAN NADIG

Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) is optimistic that a new high school could open in 2018 near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue in Read-Dunning Tax Increment Financing District but cautions that the project has not been finalized.

“I’m hopeful for the 2018-19 school year.” Sposasto said. “Is it wishful thinking? I don’t think so.”

A $50 million allocation for the construction of the new high school is one of several area capital improvement projects that were listed on a Chicago Public Schools document obtained recently by WBEZ radio. Other projects included a $30 million Prussing “replacement school,” a $3.5 million outdoor athletic facility for Taft High School and a $1 million turf field for Sauganash School.

School system officials reportedly have said that list obtained by WBEZ is preliminary and could change by the time the official announcement is made this fall.

Sauganash principal Christine Munns has announced that the school’s “field of dreams” project is moving forward. However, several other area principals said that they have received no confirmation of the reported improvements at their school.

The proposed high school would be located near a planned park that would have a multi-use athletic field with bleachers and lights. The park was scheduled to open this year, but that project has been delayed indefinitely due state funding issues, said Sposato’s chief of staff Bob Denneen.

Tentative plans for the high school were announced years ago, and at times the proposal called for a seventh- and eighth-grade junior high inside the high school. “I don’t know what ideas they’re going to go with,” Sposato said. “My personal preference would be a high school with a junior high.”

It also is not known how the opening of a new high school would affect the attendance boundaries of nearby schools, Sposato said. While Taft High School is considered overcrowded, Steinmetz and Schurz high schools are underutilized, he said.

“They’ll have no problem filling it up,” Sposato said. “You know how it is. Everybody wants to go to the bright, shiny new school.”

Taft High School principal Mark Grishaber recommended that the proposed high school become part of the Taft campus, possibly as a freshman academy. He said that there would be financial savings by using Taft’s administration to oversee the Read-Dunning campus.

Grishaber said that he is worried that Taft’s attendance boundaries would be shrunk if the new high school does open, reducing Taft’s enrollment. “I don’t want my teachers to lose their job,” he said.

Grishaber has said that Taft could accommodate more students. Taft’s enrollment is about 3,250, more than double from the late 1990s.

In the past, a teacher often was assigned one classroom for the entire school day, and those rooms were not used during the teacher’s free periods, Grishaber said. Classrooms are now shared so that they are used all periods, he said.

Sposato said that despite his optimism, the project is guaranteed “until it is officially in the capital improvement plan” and “I’m standing next to the mayor at a press conference” announcing the plans. “That’s when I’ll believe it,” he said.

The high school would be located on a 19-acre parcel at the northeast corner of the Irving Park-Oak Park intersection. Over the past 25 years much of the Read-Dunning site, which includes surplus state land, has been redeveloped for residential, commercial and industrial uses, and a section of the site has been used for the Wright College campus.

Meanwhile, Prussing principal Dr. George Chipain said that the school system has not informed that funds are being allocated for an addition to the school. In late August the school did receive new boilers, following an incident last year in which some students became ill due to a gas leak from a faulty boiler.

Prussing School Local School Council chairwoman Michele Taylor said that news of a possible addition came as a surprise to her. “Parents and administration had been asking for an addition for years but thought it was no longer an option since CPS decided to build that mobile unit,” she said. “Our kids absolutely need more space. I’m thrilled with the idea of an addition.”

At Taft, plans have been in the works for about a year to build a new artificial sports field and other outdoor facilities. In response to the WBEZ report, Grishaber said that he is unaware of funds being allocated to the project.

At Sauganash, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was scheduled to visit the school on Sept. 1 in order to announce plans for the installation of a new “turf play area” there.

The WBEZ report also included a $7 million allocation for a new pre-school center on the Northwest Side. The CPS document did not indicate a specific location.

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