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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Near South Side CPS High School A Step Closer To Reality After CHA Agrees To Lease Former Public Housing Site

The move sets aside part of the old Harold Ickes Homes site to build a $120 million school for Near South Side neighborhoods. Now, the plan heads to the Chicago Board of Education for a vote.

The site of the former Robert Ickes Homes near 24th and Dearborn. The land is being redeveloped into a mixed-use, mixed-income structure with housing and retail. But a recent move could set aside part of the land for a new Near South Side high school
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SOUTH LOOP — A long-awaited but controversial plan to build a Chicago Public Schools high school to serve Near South Side neighborhoods is one step closer to moving forward after the Chicago Housing Authority Board agreed to lease part of a former public housing site to the district.

The board unanimously approved the proposal Tuesday to grant the district a lease for up to 99 years for 1.7 acres of land at the former Harold L. Ickes Homes site near 24th and State streets for a new, $120 million high school.

The homes — built in the mid-’50s with more than 700 apartments — were torn down in 2010.

Part of the site is already being redeveloped into new housing. The Southbridge mixed-income development will include 877 apartments and retail space on 11 acres bounded by Cermak, State, 25th and Dearborn, plus another swath of land east of State Street, according to housing documents. About 244 units will house CHA families.

The first building is complete and the second building is under construction, officials said. So far, 206 mixed-income units have been completed, officials said.

The school is planned for the southernmost part of the site, which also had been set aside for the last phase of the Southbridge project.

CPS recently approached the housing agency with a land swap proposal: the district would lease the land at 24th and State for the high school and the housing agency would get the deed for 2 acres at 2240 and the 2300 block of South Wabash Avenue, according to board documents.

That land on Wabash would be used to build the remaining housing outlined in the Southbridge development, officials said.

The deal depends on CPS approving $70 million of district funding for the school and buying the land on Wabash to swap with the housing agency, according to board documents.

Credit: Provided.
The former Harold Ickes Homes, which were torn down in 2010

Residents blasted housing officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a press conference Monday, accusing leaders of pushing the plan through before neighbors had a chance to weigh in.

They also protested the move to carve out already-committed land for low-income housing to support a new high school. Neighbors briefly interrupted Tuesday’s meeting by chanting, “Hands off our land! What happened to the promise?” during public comment.

Tracey Scott, CEO of the housing agency, told residents the agency will make good on its pledge to return 240 units to the Ickes site. The proposed school would also prioritize families from Hilliard Homes and Ickes, Scott said.

‘We felt that this opportunity would benefit residents because we would not lose housing on the Ickes site,” Scott said. “We’re committed to making sure CHA residents still benefit from the redevelopment of the area.”

Dearborn Homes resident Etta Davis told board members that scheduling a vote on the matter days after asking for resident feedback was “ridiculous.”

“You treat us like second-class citizens,” Davis said. “We should be involved in everything that’s going on around us. You keep giving millions and millions of dollars to these corporations; you should be using that money to build housing.”

Elected officials, residents and advocates long have pushed for a new high school specifically to serve Armour Square, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown and South Loop. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Two-flat homes in the 800 West block of 34th Place in Bridgeport on August 4, 2021.

State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-IL) introduced the proposal in 2020 and the Illinois Assembly set aside $50 million for the project. The effort seemed to pick up steam after CPS earmarked another $70 million for the school in its capital budget last month.

Freshman Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) told Block Club in a recent interview she supports the plan and it’s a primary goal for her to make the school a reality.

Lightfoot and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez have also thrown their support behind the proposal, echoing other proponents who say the school can serve the booming population of the Near South Side.

Between the South Loop and Bronzeville, there are three public high schools: selective-enrollment school Jones College Prep, Dunbar Vocational and Wendell Phillips Academy — the latter of which has improved its academic standing despite being underfunded.

But there are no high schools immediately west of Bronzeville to serve the growing Near South Side. Lee previously said she believes a strong neighborhood high school in the area would mean an easier commute for students who typically have to travel out of the area.

“I know kids in Bridgeport who travel all the way to Lane Tech for school. That’s a two-hour public transportation commute in each direction, which isn’t conducive to you being part of extracurricular activities. If you are, you’re commuting at all hours of the evening and losing time to study. So this high school will be a real game changer,” said Lee, whose children will be attending Whitney Young Magnet Academy High School next year.

But others are vehemently opposed, including several former residents of the Harold Ickes Homes where the proposed school would be built.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People enjoy the warm weather and sunshine at Ping Tom Park in Chinatown on March 16, 2022.

The lack of affordable housing has long been an issue for low-income residents who feel they’ve been pushed out by city leaders who promised to help. In the last two decades, Cabrini Green, Robert Taylor Homes, Stateway Gardens, Ida B. Wells Homes and Harold Ickes have all been razed, some making way for new developments like sports clubs and stadiums.

The plan to build hundreds of homes at Harold Ickes was announced in 2018.

Housing agency officials told the Sun-Times in a statement they believe the new high school would be a boon for low-income residents, as well, saying “schools complement housing and provide all families, including those living in subsidized housing, with access to resources and opportunities to help them thrive.”

Roderick Wilson, executive director of the community organization Lugenia Burns Hope Center, told the Sun-Times Monday he thought affordable housing should remain the priority for the land, not building a new school.

“These are the same policies that continue to push Black Chicagoans out of Chicago,” organizers said in a press release. “The majority of CHA residents are Black; the less units CHA returns, the less housing is made available for Black people.”

Others who oppose or question the project, including some Chicago Board of Education members, also cited concerns about its potential to siphon off students from majority-Black neighborhood schools and its effect on public housing. Even some in Chinatown who have pushed for the school have not endorsed the Harold Ickes site because of the pledge to build public housing.

It’s not immediately clear when the proposal for the high school will go before the Chicago Board of Education. Its next meeting is scheduled for July 27.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
State Street looking north from Cermak in the South Loop on June 8, 2022.

Martinez abruptly pulled the proposal from consideration just before the school board was set to vote on it last month. That was just hours after WBEZ and Sun-Times detailed broad concerns about the school, including whether it was even needed considering enrollment declines in CPS.

But Lightfoot, who retains oversight of the board that will be fully elected by 2027, shuffled its membership Friday by appointing former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), a mayoral ally. The Sun-Times reported the former board member Scott replaced, Dwayne Truss, felt he’d been ousted because he’d planned to vote against the high school proposal.

Scott Jr. is the son of late Chicago Board of Education chairman Michael Scott Sr., who ran it until his death in 2009. He joins attorney Sulema Medrano Novak and former CPS employee Paige Ponder, whom Lightfoot also appointed to the board Friday.

Lightfoot picked Scott Jr.’s sister, Monique, to replace him on the City Council in June.

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