JEFFERSON PARK — A Northwest Side charter school plans to expand into the closed Our Lady of Victory Catholic school building come fall.
Horizon Science Academy Belmont, a K-8 school in Belmont Cragin, is close to finalizing a deal to buy the school building at 4434 N. Laramie Ave. and open an upper campus to serve students in seventh to ninth grades.
The expansion will give the school — which serves more than 580 students with a focus on STEM education — more room to spread out at its Belmont Cragin home, 2456 N. Mango Ave., and offer college prep classes to students at the new location, said Principal Alex Connell.
Its lower campus will serve K-6 grades, while the older grades will move to the new space, he said.
The expansion is part of a “persistent dream to see our babies all the way to graduation,” Connell said.
The sale could be final in a few weeks, said Alejandro Castillo, a spokesperson with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s real estate department. The church is not part of the plan.
Once final, Connell hopes the upper campus can open in September for the school year, he said. The school is enrolling students for both campuses.
For Horizon Science Academy’s rising 8th- and 9th-graders, the expansion will allow them to stay at the same school and still get individualized, rigorous attention, Connell said. About 95 percent of the school’s upper students — 225 students — are staying and will attend the Our Lady of Victory campus.
“We’re looking forward to becoming part of the Jefferson Park and Portage Park neighborhoods and giving families another opportunity to explore their kids’ education,” Connell said. “There are not a lot of high schools in the area.”
School leaders hope to expand to offer 10th-12th grades in 2025 with a maximum of 600 students at the upper campus, Connell said.
The upper campus will also offer dual-credit and AP classes to propel students to a college track, especially for marginalized students, Connell said.
Horizon Science Academy serves predominantly Black and Brown students, according to school demographic data. It has been named a top 10 charter school in Illinois by the U.S. News and World Report.
“We have students work with their eyes on their futures. These are the kids that sometimes don’t get those opportunities in their lives, [so] we want to make sure they have as many of them, if not more, as their peers,” Connell said. “They truly deserve it.”
Free transportation services from each campus will be available for parents who have kids at both locations, Connell said.
Horizon Science Academy was founded in 2013 in Austin and moved to Belmont Cragin six years ago. Its founding principal wanted to find a campus to expand the school, and the Our Lady of Victory school felt like a good fit based on its location and size, Connell said.
The Catholic school building has been empty since 2016, when the archdiocese closed the school due to financial strains. The adjoining church held its last mass in 2021 after the archdiocese dissolved its parish as part of the Renew My Church consolidation plan.
Susanna Ernst, former aldermanic candidate and president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, said she is happy to hear the building could be repurposed to benefit the community.
At one point, the school held about 1,000 students, Ernst said.
“We are elated that there’s an opportunity for another institution to move in there so we know that this very historical building can be preserved for our communities as long as possible,” Ernst said.
The former Our Lady of Victory parishioner, has pushed for the church to receive landmark status to prevent it from being torn down.
Our Lady of Victory, founded in 1906, is the oldest Catholic church on the Northwest Side. It has been home to Irish, Polish and German congregations. Its architectural significance, community outreach and growth between the 1920s and ’50s make it important to the area, Ernst said.
Archdiocese spokesperson Susan Thomas said there are still no options for the church, but those owned by the archdiocese are not considered for landmark status by the Catholic organization.
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