WEST LOOP — After a decade of lobbying for more room, officials recently unveiled Skinner West Elementary School’s new annex in the West Loop — a project that added more classrooms than originally proposed and came in under budget.
Construction of the four-story, 36,000-square-foot annex began in October 2017 with final costs of the annex totalling $16.6 million, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton confirmed. CPS budgeted to spend up to $20 million for the project, which was originally planned to be three stories tall.
The expansion brings 22 additional classrooms to the part selective-enrollment, part neighborhood CPS grade school, including a science lab, computer lab and multipurpose room.
The $16.6 million annex was paid for with CPS capital improvement funds, Bolton said. No Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) funds or Neighborhood Opportunity Fund dollars were used to pay for the project, she confirmed.
Two days before Election Day Feb. 26, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Principal Deborah Clark cut the ribbon on the new annex.
Burnett said the new addition will alleviate overcrowding at the school by accommodating “400 more young people” in the building.
“An investment in our children is an investment in the future of Chicago, and the state-of-the-art annex at Skinner will pay off in dividends for generations to come,” the alderman said.
Despite overcrowding, Skinner West has managed to offer a high-quality education while also hitting milestones. In recent years, Skinner West was nationally recognized as a Blue Ribbon School, was ranked as No. 1 elementary school by Chicago magazine and sent a school science experiment on a space shuttle, Principal Clark said.
This new addition will be an “anchor” for the community and help the school continue to “serve the growing needs of the West Loop,” Clark said.
The annex was constructed by the city’s Public Building Commission and includes a new elevator and chiller. Renovations were made to the existing Skinner West building, officials said.
Prior to the annex, classes were at times held in the library or even hallways, officials said.
“It’s totally wrong to have kids in hallways learning science, [or] kids in stairwells doing reading assignments,” Emanuel said at the ribbon cutting. “Skinner students are working hard to live up to their promise and potential, and this new annex will help ensure they are earning the first-rate education they deserve.”
CPS CEO Jackson, who is a parent of a Skinner West student, said she knew how important this annex was to the Skinner West community.
Prior to the expansion, Skinner West was bursting at the seams, parents reported. Class sizes swelled to 40 students in some cases, according to Skinner’s Local School Council.
CPS broke ground on the expansion in October 2017.
Since the Skinner West was rebuilt in 2009 with TIF funds, Skinner’s addition of a neighborhood component has led to skyrocketing student enrollment as parents flock to the West Loop to get their kids into the school.
In 2009, attendance was 618 students, according to CPS records. Five years later, an additional 285 students were enrolled. In the past decade, the enrollment has grown by 73 percent, according to DNAinfo.
In recent years, Skinner’s LSC made a number of cuts in an effort to address overcrowding. At the direction of CPS, the school cut a program that allowed classical students’ siblings automatic enrollment at the school. Then the number of classical classes was cut, making way for more neighborhood classes.
Skinner West leaders also moved classes into science labs and cut a tuition-based preschool program for three-year-olds and a preschool program for children with autism to allow more space.
News of the expansion was announced in a closed-door meeting in July 2016, which CPSs banned reporters from attending. At the time, the proposal called for 15 new classrooms.
Preliminary renderings were released to Skinner West parents in November 2016.
Last year, CPS announced a $1 billion capital plan which calls for a new $70 million high school to be built on the Near West Side among other improvements across the district, Jackson said.
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