UPTOWN — Despite protests and a lawsuit filed by nearby homeowners, plans to add a gym to McCutcheon Elementary School in Uptown are moving forward.
The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate approved a measure Tuesday allowing the city to acquire property surrounding McCutcheon for the purposes of building the school a gym.
McCutcheon, 4865 N. Sheridan Rd., is one of five CPS elementary schools that lacks a gym. The absence of a gym means students have to walk to the nearby Boys and Girls Club for recess and other recreational activities.
CPS has earmarked $10 million to build the gym, and the city sought to buy the property at 941 W. Castlewood Terrace to make room for the new structure. But opposition and a lawsuit from a nearby homeowners association halted the plans.
Members of the Castlewood Terrace Association last year sued the city’s Public Building Commission, saying the gym plans would disrupt the historic district they call home. (The Public Building Commission would spearhead the building project, not CPS.) The Castlewood Terrace neighborhood contains a number of century-old mansions and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
“The result would be that the sidewalk on the north side of Castlewood Terrace would be eliminated as would significant green space,” the complaint states. “If constructed, the annex would also block visibility at the west end of the street, drastically changing its appearance and character.”
The lawsuit sparked a contentious fight between the homeowners association and school supporters, which include the area’s elected officials.
Debate over whether to build the gym carried into the committee meeting Tuesday, where Castlewood Terrace Association President Ed Kuske asked the city to reconsider its plans.
Kuske said the gym should be built on the north side of the school on the site of a parking lot, instead of the south side as planned. That would save money from acquiring the needed property. Kuske has also previously suggested the school build vertically and add a second-story gym.
“Spending more money doesn’t help the kids, and it doesn’t help the taxpayer,” Kuske said. “It just helps the contractor. It gives them more money.”
School and city officials said locating the gym north of the school would disrupt existing parking, utilities and Butter Cup Park. They added that the current plan would place the gym next to an existing Boys and Girls Club, giving students easier access to after school activities.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he has a “great deal of respect” for the Castlewood Terrace neighbors, but “it was listening to the students, teachers and principal that convinced me this gym is needed,” he said. “I believe they know what’s best for their own school.”
The measure passed by the Housing and Real Estate committee allows the Public Building Commission to negotiate for the needed property, which is owned by the Boys and Girls Club, county records show. The full City Council still needs to sign off on the measure.
It is not clear where the homeowner’s lawsuit stands, given the action taken Tuesday by the committee.
McCutcheon educates a racially and economically diverse student body. Twenty percent of its students are homeless and 37 percent require special education needs, McCutcheon Principal Mary Theodosopoulos said at the Tuesday committee meeting.
She said adding a gym to the school would go a long way in helping her diverse and — in some cases underprivileged — student population.
“We have multiple diverse learners, and the gym would help us be inclusive for everybody,” Theodosopoulos said. “Being one of a handful of schools in the entire district that does not have a gym, it is just not equitable.”
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