Arena announces $36 million in improvements for 45th Ward schools: early education at St Cornelius, Prussing annex

by Brian Nadig

The establishment of an early education center on the Saint Cornelius campus and the construction of an annex at Prussing School will part of a $36 million investment in schools located in the 45th Ward, according to Alderman John Arena.

The plan also includes athletic field improvements at Hitch and Farnsworth elementary schools and Schurz High School. Arena said that funds are being used from a variety of sources, including a grant from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago for a permeable playing surface at Farnsworth.

Arena announced the capital improvement projects at the Jan. 16 meeting of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association. He and Mayor Rahm Emanuel plan to make a formal announcement at a press conference next week at Prussing.

An increasing number of families are moving into the ward and renovating their home, Arena said. “We’re seeing a lot of investment in our community in terms of housing. We have solid Level 1 schools, great parks, transportation,” he said. “We need additional seats in our schools.”

Plans call for several area schools to relocate pre-kindergarten classes to Saint Cornelius, where the parish school closed last June  and merged with other parochial schools.

The Chicago Public Schools will be leasing the space at Saint Cornelius, and it will cost about $4 million to set up the early education center, Arena said. The center will free up classroom space for the higher grades at area schools, he said.

The biggest investment in the ward will occur at Prussing, where the construction of a six-classroom annex with a lunchroom and multi-purpose room is planned, Arena said. Also, about $13 million will be spent upgrading the school’s main building, and those improvements will create additional classroom space there, he said.

The school, which has several mobile unit classrooms, is operating at about 175 percent of its capacity, and the project should lower that figure to between 85 and 90 percent, leaving  room for growth, Arena said.

Also in the ward, Schurz will be receiving a new outdoor sports field and track in addition to renovations for the school’s indoor pool, Arena said. Tax increment financing funds will be allocated for the Schurz project, he said.

At Hitch, parents and teachers have been seeking  improvements to the existing campus park, where the surface is uneven in some areas. Concerns were raised at community workshops which Arena held as part of the ward’s participatory budget process.

At Farnsworth, TIF dollars and a portion of the ward’s discretionary funds will allocated toward the field project.

About 10 years ago the city included Farnsworth in a TIF district that was primarily meant to help the Elston/Armstrong Industrial Corridor, but city officials said at the time the some of the funds would be used for the school. Several blocks of homes near the school also had to be included in the TIF district to maintain contiguous boundaries.
The capital improvement plan for the ward was designed to positively affect as many schools as possible, Arena said.

In neighboring wards, the school system is looking at installing a new athletic field at Taft High School and building a middle school, which would include a freshman campus for Taft, near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue.