Neighbors push planned Obama school out of park
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporters May 30, 2014 1:25PM
President Barack Obama attends a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Junko Kimura-Matsumoto, Pool)
Updated: July 1, 2014 6:54AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will change the site of a new, $60 million selective enrollment high school named after President Barack Obama under pressure from Near North Side residents concerned about a shortage of parking and the loss of precious park land, the local alderman predicted Friday.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said seven alternative sites on the Near North Side have been identified, most of them owned by the Chicago Housing Authority. A few of the sites are controlled by the city, the Chicago Park District or private owners.
Once City Hall determines which parcels are feasible, community input that was sorely lacking the first time around will be sought, the alderman said.
One way or another, the showcase school that will become Chicago’s 11th selective enrollment high school will not be built in the middle of Stanton Park, Burnett said.
“It will be moved, and it should be moved, because it’s not a good spot. It’s just too tight. There’s no parking. It’s a congested area between two grammar schools, and it’s taking away existing park space. We just got money to fix the park. We don’t want to mess up the park. We want to enhance it,” the alderman said.
“You’re talking about young people coming from all over the city. Most of them are gonna drive. So are the teachers. Quest and Skinner [elementary schools] are having their own challenges with parking without another school being there. Skinner is negotiating with Target [to use store parking]. We encouraged them to look at other spots. They agreed.”
Meghan Harte, Emanuel’s deputy chief of staff and point person on the Obama Prep project, could not be reached for comment on the possible site change. Other City Hall sources acknowledged that a site change was in the works to appease area residents and their local alderman.
In an emailed statement, Chicago Public Schools spokesman Joel Hood said, “The announcement of a new school in this area was the first step and, as CPS has done in the past, we are engaging in a conversation with the community about potential locations within the neighborhood. CPS remains committed to ensuring that every child throughout the city has access to high-quality education choices and resources they need to succeed.”
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Education, President David Vitale all but ruled out an oft-suggested use of the old Near North Career Metropolitan High School at 1450 N. Larrabee, which the district shut down in 2001.
“The issue around Near North High School ... is much more complicated than you might imagine,” Vitale said. “I believe even at this stage, we no longer control that property. And prior to the transfer of the ownership to the CHA with respect to that property, it was tied up in legal proceedings that were quite complicated ... so the building is actually not available to us at this stage.”
On April 24, Emanuel unveiled plans to use tax increment financing to build the school in the middle of Stanton Park, 618 W. Scott.
The plan has stirred controversy because it follows Emanuel’s decision to close 50 public schools in predominantly African-American neighborhoods on the South and West sides.