Less than two weeks after first announcing his plan of turning the currently closed Brach’s plant, located at 401 N. Cicero, into a new school, 8th district state Representative democratic nominee LaShawn Ford invited representatives of the Board of Education out for a walkthrough of the site to discuss the ambitious plan.
“They just invested $30 million into the Austin High School for the Renaissance 2010 upgrades. Why can’t they invest those same funds into a school at this site?” said Ford, owner of Ford Desired Real Estate. “It would be sure to attract students of different races and economic backgrounds, not to mention new businesses to the community.”
The Friday tour did not go as planned, however. Upon arriving at the site Friday morning, Ford and his party were hampered by the unexpected lack of initial access to the Brach’s property, located just north of Lake Street on Cicero.
Ford said he had gained permission to tour the site days before last Friday’s walkthrough. The property is enclosed by 10-foot high steel fencing and appeared to have no visible hint of physical activity within, which stood in contrast with the assertion of the signs adorning the property clearly warning of the 24-hour surveillance and armed security.
Undeterred, Ford and the group were able to gain access to the site by driving through an opening in the fencing.
The site, comprised of more than 30 acres of land, has been unoccupied for three years. Property owners Gold Realty Group Corp., currently owns the plant. Paine/Wetzel INCOR International has the Brach’s property listed on its website, www.painewetzel.com, with a sales price $10 million.
As a PMD (Protected Manufacturing District), the site is zoned for industrial use only by the city, which has been reluctant to rezone for commercial or residential development.
“Zoning has been a huge problem,” Ford told representatives of the board as he drove through the parking area of the facility. “Some investors wanted to turn the property into a row of homes but none of those plans ever got off the ground though. I think it would be an ideal spot for a school.
“Access to the Green Line and great parking means that we can cater to many students from many parts of the city. We can even get school buses to pick up children from different districts,” Ford added. “It would work perfectly.”
Ford acknowledged a few hurdles in his plan, one being how to finance the project and two, if the Chicago Public School would support such a tremendous project, especially in a community that’s seen schools closed and others placed on academic probation.
Even the board representatives admitted that the best chance of the project seeing the light of day for a private donor to purchase the site. That, representatives said, would be contingent on if there are enough surplus funds either from CPS or the donor to also finance the project, which they estimate would be between $20-40 million.
The board representatives, who asked that their names not be used, agreed to discuss Ford’s proposal within their circle.
“Our board will meet next week to discuss the plan and we will certainly get back to you in a week or so,” said one representative.