LINCOLN PARK — Plans to open two preschools in Lincoln Park in the fall hit a snag after a city panel delayed a vote on one of the buildings because Chicago Public Schools never provided a traffic study for the area.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals was set to vote on the two schools — one a new preschool at 1840 N. Clark St. and the second an annex of Alcott Elementary School planned for 610 W. Schubert Ave. — during its Friday meeting. But district officials never gave board members a copy of the first school’s traffic study, which was a point of contention among neighbors who opposed the project.
The board members pushed back its planned vote to its May 21 meeting so they have time to review the study, Chair Timothy Knudsen said.
“I don’t see any way we can take a vote on this today without seeing the traffic study,” Knudsen said. “We’re dealing with a big community objection here, and a continuance of some format is going to give everyone time to know what we’re looking at.”
The first school’s plan includes reconfiguring a vacant office building at 1840 N. Clark St. into a preschool with 10 classrooms, each about 1,000 square feet with its own bathroom and storage area, officials said.
It’s expected to serve about 200 students with class sizes reaching about 20 students for every teacher and teacher’s assistant, officials said. The school would also have a front office, multi-purpose room, a food-prep space and a playground, which will be available for public use around school hours, officials said.
But residents of the Hemingway House, which is north of the school’s would-be building at 1850 N. Clark St., argued the traffic study the district did in October was inaccurate. They said it was analyzing traffic patterns during a stage of the pandemic when many businesses were closed and people were advised to stay home.
Neighbors also raised concerns about the traffic congestion that would be created by the school’s daily dropoffs and pickups.
“Our building has many objections related to traffic congestion with 200 students coming to this school every day, twice a day,” said Athena Farmakis, president of the Hemingway House’s condominium association.
CPS representatives said the numbers in their traffic study were adjusted to accommodate for the pandemic, and they said the school had worked out an efficient “kiss-and-go” system for dropoffs that would keep drivers moving.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), whose ward includes the schools’ planned locations, said she was “shocked” CPS hadn’t provided the zoning board with its traffic study.
“Under the circumstances here, CPS has not done what they need to do to empower this commission to make a full review of the topic, so I agree we should do a continuance for a month,” Smith said.
The second school — less than a block from Alcott Elementary — will serve 120 4-year-olds across six classrooms, district officials said. It was approved by the zoning board with support from Smith and no opposition from community members.
“This exact location was approved to be a private school several years ago, but it didn’t happen for whatever reason,” Smith said. “So the community has had the chance to vet this location for school purposes in the past, and this preschool will be a wonderful annex to Alcott Elementary School.”
That school proposal will now go before City Council for final approval.
The two schools are part of the city’s promise to bring full-day preschool to every 4-year-old interested in enrolling in Chicago by the end of 2024. To accomplish that goal, the city needs a little more than 18,000 full-day preschool seats.
So far, the district is about 2,160 seats from that goal, including 360 seats in Lincoln Park, which will be covered between the two new schools, officials said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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