Austin’s Wal-Mart is on schedule for a summer opening with job applications for the first and only store within city limits expected to reach into the tens of thousands.

More than 24,000 people applied for 325 jobs last week at the south suburban Evergreen Park Wal-Mart, which opened Jan. 27. Of the roughly 24,000 applicants, only 500 were listed from Chicago, according to figures compiled by the company. The Austin Wal-Mart is expected to begin taking applications in April.

The Austin Wal-Mart broke ground in May 2005. The new store, covering 150,000 square feet, is under construction at 4650 W. North Ave. The Austin store will open with bells and whistles unlike any other store in the retail giant’s chain. The Austin store will be the first U.S. Wal-Mart with a green roof. At 67,000 square feet, the roof will be covered with flowering plants adaptable to Chicago’s cold weather. The city has similar green roofs atop City Hall, Bethel New Life Center and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The City Council approved the West Side Wal-Mart in April 2005. Austin was chosen over a South Side location after a rancorous 2 1/2 hour debate.

The opening date for the Austin store was pushed back after steel beams and underground iron were found on the North Avenue site.

“We had some bad engineering and a bad architectural drawing,” said Ald. Emma Mitts, whose 37th Ward will host the store. “We had new engineers and architects to come in and we’re on schedule now. Wal-Mart usually builds in rural areas where there’s nothing but wide-open space. So this was a little different.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, currently employs more than 46,000 people in Illinois alone.

?”Terry Dean