ALBANY PARK — The second phase of campus construction at three Albany Park schools got underway last week with the goal of finishing the work by September.
Architectural firm SmithGroup is redesigning the outdoor campus shared by Albany Park Multicultural Academy, William G. Hibbard Elementary and Edison Regional Gifted Center, all in the 4900 block of North Sawyer Avenue.
SmithGroup gathered community feedback in 2019 on what kind of outdoor amenities parents and neighbors wanted installed before breaking ground on the first stage of construction.
“We really got some great input from community meetings that we were able to incorporate into Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project,” said Brett Weidl, an associate landscape architect at SmithGroup.
The first phase of the project focused on improving the school yard and field closest to Hibbard, adding pre-K and kindergarten playgrounds, an outdoor classroom, fitness area and track and artificial turf field. That work was finished summer 2020.
“We had a soft opening of Phase 1 over the last year due to COVID-19. We were hoping for more a celebration earlier, but we couldn’t with everything going on,” Weidl said.
A groundbreaking event last week kicked off the second phase of work. This phase will include the creation of a playground south of Albany Park Multicultural Academy and Edison Regional Gifted Center, a garden and an amphitheater.
A pedestrian-only shared community space will also be created on a stretch of Sawyer Avenue between the three schools.
Hibbard Principal Scott Ahlman said the renovations are a “dream” for his students.
“Phase 1 really changed the whole look and feel of the school, and it’s wonderful to have such a wonder facility for our kids,” Ahlman said. “And phase two has been coming along really nicely.”
Chicago Public Schools funding paid for the first phase, while the second phase is being covered by property taxes generated in the Lawrence and Kedzie tax increment financing district. The work began during former Ald. Deb Mell’s tenure, and current Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) has shepherded the project to the finish line, Ahlman said.
“I really want to thank both alderwomen because they were really able to help us secure the TIF funding needed for phase two,” Ahlman said.
Rodriguez, whose child attends Hibbard, said projects like this are a perfect example of how to properly spend TIF funds to improve shared public spaces.
“Because of how difficult things have been during COVID, this particular project just feels so much more immense and satisfying,” Rodriguez said. “ It’s been a journey, but we are almost there. And I’m really excited about it.”
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