Crowding concerns over freshman campus raised
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposed south campus for freshmen at Taft High School could become overcrowded if the school’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center were also to be housed there, according to Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th).
"I’m very worried we’ll open the south campus, and we’ll be overcrowded from day one," Sposato said. He said that he expects to get an update on the proposal later this month when be meets with project officials.
Plans call for a new high school building to be constructed by the fall of 2019 on the Read-Dunning development area at Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue. However, the school system is not expected to announce until next year if the building would be used as a freshman academy for the overcrowded Taft or house a new 4-year Dunning high school.
Initial plans had called for the new school to have a capacity of about 1,350 students, but that number had been reduced to about 1,200 in order to save money, Sposato said.
Under one preliminary proposal, the new building would be home to Taft’s freshmen, which number about 890 this fall, and academic center students, whose total is about 280. The center is a gifted program that has been at Taft for about 20 years.
Sposato said that Taft’s freshman enrollment would likely rise given that "everyone wants to go to the bright, shiny new school" and that Taft’s attendance boundaries would expand under the proposal.
Bridge, Dever and Canty schools would be added to Taft’s feeder list under the plan, and all of the students in Smyser School’s attendance area would become eligible for Taft. Currently half of Smyser’s students go to Taft and half go to Steinmetz Prep High School. Sposato has requested that students from those four schools have the option of choosing Steinmetz, which has been under-enrolled in recent years.
Sposato said that the school system should consider delaying the relocation of the academic center there for at least a year to allow for a better assessment of Taft’s anticipated enrollment growth.
At a recent meeting of the Taft Local School Council, Taft administrators said that they were optimistic that the new building would be used for Taft. Taft’s enrollment is 3,360 students, which is more than double from 15 years ago.
However, some LSC members cautioned that the situation could be fluid given that there is a city election in early 2019 and that different decision makers could be in place before the school opens.
Taft principal Mark Grishaber has argued that a freshman campus for Taft makes more sense than a new 4-year high school in part because Taft already offers a large selection of activities, including all CPS-sanctioned sports, which a smaller school could not do on its own.
Opponents of the Taft plan have said that it would drain resources and students away from Steinmetz or that the Dunning community deserves its own high school. Plans were recently announced for athletic field improvements at Steinmetz. Work on the athletic field is scheduled to break ground this year and it will be installed by summer of 2018 and cost $4.5 million. The field will replace the school’s existing field and include a football and soccer field made of artificial turf, an 8-lane running track with a high-performance overlay and baseball and softball fields.
Meanwhile, plans call for the new school to have an outdoor running track and for access to a multi-purpose athletic field in a planned park on an adjoining parcel, Sposato said.
Also, the Public Building Commission recently installed a sign near the Irving Park-Oak Park intersection announcing plans for a new "Read Dunning Middle School," but Sposato said that it was creating confusion and that it was later changed.
"It’s 100 percent it’s going to be a high school," either a Taft freshman campus or a new 4-year school, he said.