Arts school to take over one of Chicago's 43 closed school buildings

November 4, 2013

WBEZ/Bill Healy
Lafayette Elementary in Humboldt Park was shuttered in June.

It looks like the city may have found a use for the first of Chicago’s 43 shuttered school buildings.

Lafayette Elementary in Humboldt Park was shuttered in June. Now word is out that the Chicago High School for the Arts is moving in.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the neighborhood, which is sort of an arts neighborhood,” said Jim Mabie, ChiArts’ founding chairman.  “We’ve very enthusiastic about the facility. And we’re looking forward to having our own building for the first time, which will house all 600 kids.”

Billed as the city’s “Fame” school, ChiArts has been without a permanent home since it opened five years ago. The city’s first public arts high school, it offers three hours of intensive arts training a day on top of a five hours of academics.

ChiArts is one of very few schools Chicago has opened in the last decade that has managed to attract students from all over the city—it boasts students from every ward—and from all income and racial backgrounds.

The mayor announced last year that ChiArts would take over part of  Malcolm X College, which is getting a new facility. The city said then that the current Malcolm X building would be transformed into “an eclectic, multi-purpose arts center.”

But Mabie says costs there were prohibitive. “The Lafayette facility is a very good fit for us and economically will require less renovation dollars than Malcolm X would have required,” he says. Moving to Lafayette is better financially for the school district, which has to pick up renovation costs, says Mabie, who is also a board chairman emeritus of Chicago Public Media.

The move to Lafayette could be controversial  because Chicago Public Schools had promised no charter schools would take over closed buildings. ChiArts is a contract school—which is only slightly different than a charter. ChiArts admits students based on auditions, rather than by lottery. It is still privately run and publicly funded.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll wouldn’t confirm that ChiArts is moving into the Lafayette building. “There have been nine potential locations under consideration and Lafayette is one of them,” she said. “All remains in the planning stage.”

Linda Lutton is a WBEZ Education Reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation.