July 22, 2009 – Students and teachers in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood who are tired of overcrowded classrooms will get some relief this fall when a new school opens.
The Chicago Plan Commission has approved the zoning for Brighton Park Elementary II – a three-story school to be built in the Brighton Park Industrial Corridor between Rockwell Street and Campbell Avenue on West 48th Street. The school, which will have 900 students, will ease “extreme overcrowding” at James Shields Elementary, according to representatives for the project.
Shields currently holds 2,600 students – twice as many as the school is designed to serve. Modular classrooms have been installed to handle the overcrowding at Shields and other schools in the area. Another neighborhood school, Burroughs Elementary, currently has 550 students, although it was designed to hold 350. Shields is now accepting students on a controlled enrollment basis, despite being a public neighborhood school.
“We’re constantly building schools to keep pace with overcrowding,” said Donald Quinlan of Ald. Edward Burke’s 14th Ward office. Ald. Burke was the first to propose that a school be built in the empty corridor, which was owned by the Chicago Tube and Iron Co., until it was purchased by the Board of Education earlier this year.
Plan Commission members raised questions about whether Brighton Park II would be large enough for 900 students.
The Managing Architect for Chicago Public Schools, Penny Varnava, said that the school could hold more than 1,000 students with enough space for a library, music and computer rooms, 24 classrooms and a full gym.
Brighton Park II Elementary enrollment would be open to students currently attending one of several public grammar schools in the area including McKinley Park, Burroughs, Nathan S. Davis and the existing Brighton Park Elementary.
Industrial buildings will be demolished and underground storage tanks will be removed. Plans call for the widening of 48th Street where the school will be located.
The middle school on the drawing board, Irene C. Hernandez Middle School for the Advancement of the Sciences, is named after the first Hispanic Cook County Commissioner. The $40 million project at 3510 W. 55th St. in Gage Park would serve 1,230 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
A new high school is scheduled to open in 2010 across the street from the proposed Hernandez Middle School. A footbridge over 55th St. will connect the two campuses.