Plans unveiled for proposed North Park Village pre-school; officials also announce that half of the classrooms at Cornelius pre-k center in Jefferson Park to open this fall while new Edgebrook pre-school set for 2023 opening
by BRIAN NADIG
An existing driveway in front of the site of the proposed pre-school at North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Road, would facilitate the drop-off and pickup of students and limit potential traffic flow issues, according to Chicago Public Schools officials.
“What’s unique about this (location) is the roundabout. I don’t think I have a school with a roundabout,” said Julie McGlade, chief of CPS Network 1, which includes the Northwest Side.
“We have a ‘kiss and go’ system at several of our schools. We try to get traffic flowing,” McGlade said, adding that some schools are especially challenged at dismissal time because the entrance is located on a main thoroughfare.
Officials presented plans for the early education center at a March 30 meeting hosted by Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th).
Concerns 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. The former health clinic building where the school would be located also is near the entrance.
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.
McGlade said that project officials would be meeting with village representatives to help coordinate the start and dismissal times for the school. She added that the school’s proximity to the main entrance means that parents should have no need to drive far into the village, which includes a gymnastics center, senior housing and a nature preserve.
Plans call for the school to open in the fall of 2023 and to serve up to 200 pre-kindergarten students, primarily from the West Ridge and North Park area. An existing interior courtyard in the building, which was constructed in 1979 and which has been vacant for years, would be used as a playground under the proposed, which is contingent on a zoning change.
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, said CPS chief of early childhood education Bryan Stokes. For pre-school programs at a neighborhood elementary school, applicants who live within the attendance area also will be given priority, he said.
McGlade that pre-school plays a crucial role in a child’s development and that during the past few years CPS has been opening more early learning centers throughout the city. Currently there is a needed for 440 pre-school seats for 4-year-olds in the West Ridge-North Park area, but there are only 240 seats are available, according to CPS.
“This community needs additional pre-k seats,” McGlade said, adding that “school starts at 4” is becoming a slogan for CPS.
Brynford Park Community Association president Dan Luna said that the pre-school would be a welcome addition to the area and that he wished it had been an option for his now-grown-up children when they were young. The Brynford community is located across from North Park Village, which until the 1970s was a tuberculosis sanitarium.
Other residents said that the school’s location at the village makes it a great opportunity to incorporate nature and an array of outdoor activities into the curriculum.
CPS also is opening seven pre-school classrooms inside the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., this fall and an additional seven rooms in 2023, and another pre-school will be opening in the fall of 2023 inside a two-story office building at 5330 W. Devon Ave. in Downtown Edgebrook.
Also at the meeting, residents expressed concerns about the condition of the former health clinic and said that a senior center had been in the works for the site, but the project stopped about 5 years ago with little explanation.
“There’s mold in there that needs to be remediated,” one audience member said.
CPS chief facilities officers Ivan Hansen said that the building’s interior is in a gutted condition and that he is unaware of a mold problem but that the roof would have to be replaced.
Several residents said 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.
One resident said that the city should fulfill its prior commitment to use the site for a senior center.
North Park Village Advisory Council Kathy Manrriquez said that the council did not learn of the proposal until a week ago. She said that the council had a meeting on March 16, and no city representative mentioned the proposal.
“There is a (community engagement) process that was completely ignored,” she said, adding that the council has been in place for 40 years and has representatives from many civic groups.
Nugent said that her office reached out to one of the council’s co-chairs in late February and due to a series of missed calls, the two have been unable to have a discussion on the matter. Nugent added that the proposal will going through her normal input process, which includes community meetings and reaching out to the affected community groups.
McGlade said that the project is not a done deal and that project officials would meet with the advisory council and the Conservancy condominium association. The Conservancy complex is located behind the site of the proposed school.
At times the redevelopment of the village site 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.