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Shuttered CPS elementary to be home of Chicago High School for the Arts: sources

A student walks down hallway Jean de Lafayette Elementary School final day school June 19 2013 Chicago.  |

A student walks down a hallway at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, on the final day of school, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. | Scott Eisen~AP

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Updated: December 5, 2013 6:12AM

A shuttered neighborhood school building will likely be turned into an arts high school, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Though Chicago Public Schools officials and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) say the Lafayette Elementary School is only one of several buildings under consideration for the new location of the Chicago High School for the Arts — affectionately known as ChiArts — other City Hall sources described it as a done deal.

ChiArts and Lafayette in Humboldt Park once planned to share the Lafayette building but the plan fell through a few years ago. In the recent school closings, Lafayette was shuttered because of low enrollment.

Some in the Lafayette community are feeling the sting, questioning why their school was closed only to make room for a new one.

“For crying out loud, how do you move 570 students that were comfortable, that had the programs they needed . . . and . . . later you lease out their building?” said Rousemary Vega, 33, who once conducted a sit-in at Lafayette to protest its closure.

But for ChiArts, which has bounced around three locations, occupying the Lafayette building would finally give it a place to establish roots. The school officials have been searching for a permanent spot since 2009 when ChiArts opened.

“It’s been a long journey to find a home for us,” ChiArts spokesman Chris Smith said.

“We hope it becomes a done deal,” he said of the Lafayette space.

“CPS has been working with ChiArts for the past several months to identify a permanent home for the school,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said, adding that there have been nine potential locations in total and the search remains in “the planning process.”

ChiArts considered the Lafayette building once before. That was a few years ago and both schools would have shared the space.

But in 2010, ChiArts pulled out, said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward, before the remap, included the area Lafayette is in.

“It was going to be a big awesome to-do and then all of a sudden nothing,” said Valerie Nelson, 43, who used to head Lafayette’s local school council.

Trisha Shrode, the principal of Lafayette at the time, and Moreno said planning had been going on for about a year before ChiArts pulled out.

It was determined that the space wouldn’t be big enough to share, Smith said.

That left Lafayette in the lurch and was “a significant factor” in Lafayette eventually being classified as underutilized — or low enrollment, Moreno said.

“That’s why I fought for the school to remain open because of that significant situation they had,” Moreno said.

Though some members of the community are heartbroken over the possibility that ChiArts will locate to the Lafayette building, Maldonado, who now represents the area the school is in, said he supports the move.

“How many kids do I have [in my ward] so talented in the performing arts?” he said. “They would more than welcome the opportunity to be educated at a school like that.”

ChiArts, currently located in Bronzeville, serves a diverse student body of nearly 600 chosen after a selection process that includes academics, interviews and auditions. Their daily routine includes five hours of academic classes and three hours of arts training in their specialty area.

It is a contract school, which differs from a charter school, Carroll said.

Some differences include: Contract schools can dictate the terms of enrollment in their contract, while charters conduct lotteries. In the case of ChiArts, it can require auditions for students to enroll, CPS said. And in the case of student discipline, contract schools have to follow CPS’ Student Code of Conduct, while charters don’t. Carroll said some contract schools employ union teachers, but they are not required to do so.

ChiArts was supposed to take over Malcolm X College’s old building when the college moved into a new facility. But that plan was nixed.

“Though it was previously announced that Malcolm X would serve as that home, together we came to the conclusion that because of excessive renovation costs and the expenses that ChiArts would be responsible for to operate the building, this would not be the best fit for the school,” Carroll said.

Not long ago, ChiArts officials thought they’d be moving into the Malcolm X location in 2015 — as the mayor’s office announced last year, Smith said.

It was “as much as shock to us as anyone in [the Lafayette] community” when CPS proposed the former Lafayette building recently, Smith said.

But he said the Lafayette building would be a suitable location for ChiArts to occupy on its own. The building would have to be renovated to include facilities for a sculpture studio, a kiln for pottery, dance studios and soundproof booths for music, among other needs, he said.

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