Plans for new pre-k school at North Park Village scrapped due to traffic concerns, but Alderman Nugent, CPS plan to seek more suitable location
by BRIAN NADIG
Plans to open a Chicago Public Schools pre-kindergarten center inside a former medical building at North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Road, will not be moving forward due to community opposition, but Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) hopes a more suitable location in the ward can be found.
“Following the presentation and discussion at the community meeting, and collection of feedback since the meeting, I will not be supporting the proposal and planned development (zoning) amendment for this use at this time.
“While CPS data clearly illustrates the need for additional early childhood classrooms in our community, this is not the most fitting location. I will continue working with CPS and the community to find a location that supports the need and use,” Nugent wrote in a recent letter to constituents.
In a statement, CPS said it will not be moving forward with the North Park Village proposal, which required zoning relief, and hopes a new location for the school can be found.
Although CPS has identified a need for more pre-k seats in the area, there are currently 4,000 seats available for full-day preschool (age four and above) at public schools across the city and 1,000 seats available for half-day preschool programming.
Many residents who live at the village expressed concerns about traffic backups around drop-off and dismissal times for the school, which would have had about 200 students.
CPS officials argued that a circular driveway near the building would have eased the flow of traffic but the fact that there is only one public entryway into the 155-acre village raised concerns for many residents. The former health clinic building is located near the entrance, and some residents have said that an existing gymnastics center at the village already causes some traffic issues.
More than 700 people live in senior housing at the village and the adjacent Conservancy Place condominium complex, which is located behind the proposed school site. Some Conservancy residents expressed concerns about the proposal at a March 30 community meeting.
“What’s unique about this (location) is the roundabout. I don’t think I have a school with a roundabout,” Julie McGlade, chief of CPS Network 1, said at the community meeting.
“We have a ‘kiss and go’ system at several of our schools. We try to get traffic flowing,” McGlade also said, adding that some schools are especially challenged at dismissal time because the entrance is located on a main thoroughfare.
Concerns also were raised that the added traffic from the school would interfere with the shuttle bus that picks up and drops off residents near the entrance of the village on Pulaski, from which they can access a CTA bus.
One resident said that many of the village’s tenants do not drive or have disabilities that prevent them from walking far and that they rely on the shuttle bus to get around the 155-acre campus.
Nugent said in an interview that she is looking forward to the search for a new pre-school site but that a location has not yet been identified. “I really want an early education center in 39,” she said.
CPS is planning to open in 2023 a new pre-k center in Edgebrook at 5320-30 W. Devon Ave. inside a former medical office building, which is across the street from the 39th Ward. That school is located in the 41st Ward, but under the remap will be in the 45th Ward, which also has a new pre-k center at 5252 N. Long Ave., the former Saint Cornelius School site.
A citywide application process is used for pre-school, and under a new policy, applicants who live within 1.5 miles of a stand-alone city pre-school will be given preference points on their application.
Nugent added that she hopes that a new use for the former medical building can be found for those who live at North Park Village. However, she said, there are remediation issues that would have to be addressed before a tenant could move in.
Several residents reported at the meeting that years ago former alderman Margaret Laurino announced plans to convert the building into a center that would house medical offices, including a physical therapist, and recreational space for the village’s seniors. One resident said after the meeting that asbestos was removed as part of the project and that work had started on remediating the mold but that the project came to a halt.
At times the redevelopment of the village site, which was once a tuberculosis sanitarium, has been contentious, starting in the 1970s when the city attempted to sell the property for a possible shopping center. About 30 years ago the city opened a facility on the site where parking tickets could be paid, but a storm of controversy quickly led to its closing.
In 2020 Nugent successfully pushed for a 75-year conservation easement on the property to be put in perpetuity. The easement protects the city-owned land from commercial development.