LECLAIRE COURTS — A Southwest Side public school will get a new location with an urban farm, a federally qualified health center and more as developers revamp a former Chicago Housing Authority property with a focus on environmental sustainability.
Project leaders and local officials held a groundbreaking Tuesday for the $60 million development, which sits on 6 acres at the former LeClaire Courts public housing site along Cicero Avenue near the Stevenson Expressway. Developers bought the land in 2018.
Nonprofit Cultivate Collective is overseeing the project, anchored by the new Academy for Global Citizenship building. The move will mean the K-8 school — which has been in separate buildings at 4647 W. 47th St. and 4941 W. 46th St. — will be under the same roof for the first time, said Kris De La Torre, the school’s sustainability coordinator.
De La Torre, who is also a board member of Cultivate Collective, said the team is dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmental justice throughout the development.
“I think the Southwest Side of Chicago is really yet to have a voice in the conversation around sustainability and what this community experiences,” De La Torre said. “I think there are a lot of historical but also current factors that mean we really need to pay closer attention to the quality of life and the environmental factors affecting the people, especially young people, in this area.”
In addition to a 3-acre farm that will supply fresh produce for the school and the community, the site will have walking trails, an orchard and an employment center to provide access to training and jobs in the green sector, De Le Torre said. The grounds will also house solar panels, geothermal wells, a wind turbine and stormwater catchments.
Developers also hope the school building can achieve a high level of sustainability certification called the Living Building Challenge. De La Torre said the goal is to generate the buildings’ own energy and water resources while teaching students about sustainability principles in a digestible manner.
“A lot of these metrics can seem incredibly abstract, and I think it is a challenge to kind of move past what a lot of people are experiencing as apathy in the face of a very clear, measurable impact of climate change,” De La Torre said. “And I think without sort of diminishing hope for what young people can do, it makes it much less abstract if they just see their very immediate impact.”
Another component of Cultivate’s project is to partner with Esperanza Health to include a federally qualified health center on site, De La Torre said.
This development will neighbor a separate project on other former LeClaire Courts land that is bringing hundreds of units of affordable housing and other amenities to the area.
Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), whose ward covers Cultivate’s project, said he’s excited about plans for “a community centered space.” He said neighbors are looking forward to the development.
“Part of the problem with public housing is that residents are isolated from public services; they are isolated from the community at large,” Rodriguez said. “We want to integrate everyone into a shared community and provide everyone with access to resources like great schools, like a federally qualified healthcare center, like a grocery store.”
The first phase of the project, which includes the school, health center and farm, is expected to be completed and open to the public by fall 2023.
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