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Shelter to school conversion sign of the times in South Loop

Jan. 6, 2009 – With the demolition of the former Pacific Garden Mission building on South State Street complete, Jones College Preparatory High School is gearing up for big change in 2009. Chicago Public Schools has changed construction plans for the now-empty lot immediately south of the school from an extension to a new seven-story, $130 million building.

The school council announced the change at an open meeting in late November where students, parents and community members gathered to discus the expansion. According to the council, the new building will hold up to 1,200 students, a 60 percent increase over current 750-student capacity.

"I think it's a good thing," said Christina Richards, a student at Jones, "because a lot of people don't like that there's not a gym right now. It will probably bring more people here."

Richards, now a junior, will probably not be around to see the completion of the new facility, as there has been no date set at this time to begin construction.

"It's disappointing because they have been talking about adding a gym and pool since I was applying here," Richards said, "but it's good that future students will get to have them."

The selective college preparatory school will also open its doors to the growing south loop population in connection with the South Loop Elementary School located just south of Roosevelt Road in Dearborn Park.

"With the growing population in the South Loop," said Joseph Powers, the principal of Jones, at the meeting, "CPS would like very much for us to, in addition to serving a citywide function through the selective-enrollment process, serve in some way the neighborhood population as well."

It is estimated that the 2010 census will show that the Loop is the fastest neighborhood in the city. As quickly as the Loop population is growing, so is the number of family households with children, said Von Deluna of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

There have been no official plans to set the enrollment boundaries, according to Tom Kubiak, President of the Local Student Council. Powers emphasized that the community needed to come up with a plan that illustrates how the shift to the new facility would work.

"I think it says something about the community that they are willing to invest so much in our children's education," said Katherine Wright, a resident in Printer's Row and mother of four-year-old Gabby Wright. "I'm seeing more and more children in the area and, it's important that we plan for their future education."

The current building, located at 606 S. State St., will be sold, and the new building will be funded with $90 million in tax increment financing and the remaining $40 million from CPS. Previous plans for the vacant lot included a gymnasium, a library and a pool.

"I've lived here for some time now, and it's quite a switch to see the mission giving way to a new high school," said Wright.  "It just goes to show how much the neighborhood has changed.  I'm sure that it will continue to do so."

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