Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising that the South Loop area of Chicago will get a new elementary school.
WBEZ has learned that Emanuel called a small group of South Loop residents into a meeting with city officials. In the meeting, he outlined plans to build a new elementary school for 1200 students.
He presented a timeline and said the city was working on purchasing property for the new school. The new school would not be open for at least two years, according to multiple sources.
The current South Loop elementary school is the 10th most overcrowded in the district and the South Loop neighborhood is among the fastest growing in Chicago, according to CPS and the U.S. Census.
Emanuel, according to sources, was not specific about how much the new school would cost, nor exactly how the cash-strapped school district will pay for the school. The mayor did mention that last year the city council approved a property tax increase specifically for capital improvements.
The South Loop elementary school does not appear to be the only new school or addition on the table this year. WBEZ was told Emanuel is presenting a map of new projects. WBEZ obtained a list of 16 additions or new schools the school district would like to undertake to deal with overcrowding.
It is unclear how many of these projects the district plans to actually get underway this year. However, parents on the Southwest Side, as well as their alderman, told the Chicago Sun Times that the mayor had a similar meeting with them and promised an addition and a new school.
The school district released a statement saying that the mayor is holding meetings with parents in several communities with overcrowded schools to assess needs and talk about solutions, but that these are “the first steps in a long process.”
School district officials have so far been mum on what capital projects they plan to complete this year.
The capital project budget is typically released in May, but on May 1st, CPS posted a note on its website saying that in FY17, “it will continue all previously announced capital projects.”
The website goes onto say: “Given CPS’ financial constraints and efforts to work with our partners in Springfield to resolve those constraints, CPS may reassess and amend this Draft FY17 Capital Plan when the District’s budget is released this summer.”
It also mentions that in the coming four years the $45 million raised through the new capital improvement tax will be used to deal with “overcrowding, deferred maintenance, targeted site improvements and emergency projects.”
Chicago school officials and the mayor will have to unveil these plans of new schools and additions delicately.
For one, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and other school leaders are in the midst of a campaign to convince state lawmakers to change the way schools are funded, which they say is fundamentally unfair to Chicago schools.
Claypool says CPS is facing a $1 billion deficit and has told principals to expect to cut an average of 26 percent from their budgets.
On top of that, CPS and Emanuel closed nearly 50 schools in poor neighborhoods in 2013 and still about 313 schools—more than half of all schools—are considered underutilized, according to CPS, posted on the district’s website in December 2015.
Only about 60 schools are overcrowded and 37 of them have mobile units that currently make them not overcrowded, according to CPS data.
The current South Loop elementary school does not have space for mobile units.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her @SSKedreporter