A fight over school expansion has pitted a major medical center against a small school for the hearing impaired.
Children of Peace, a catholic school for hearing-impaired students, is located in the center of the Illinois Medical District on the West Side. The school owns its building, but it is on land controlled by the commission for the district. In order for the school to renovate or expand, it must have the approval of the commission, which is where the fight begins.
“It seems like what [the commission is] suggesting to us is that we should not try to make this school a better school,” said Maureen Murphy, legal counsel for Children of Peace. “Because at some point in the future, the commission may decide that it wants to take this property.”
School officials want to build a connection between their two buildings, which would add five classrooms and a safe passage for students who currently have to walk across a parking lot between the buildings. The extra space will also bring facilities up to standards, Murphy said. Some school officials believe the commission wants to push the school out of the current location so they can use the land for other purposes.
The commission has discussed using the school’s land as a potential site for University of Illinois at Chicago’s health sciences campus expansion, said Commissioner John Partelow, maintaining that they have not voted to do anything with the land.
The school was built on medical district land at the northwest corner of Taylor and Wolcott as a school for the hearing impaired in 1962, with the agreement that it could remain as long as its purpose didn’t change. If the school’s mission changes, it opens the possibility for the commission to claim the land.
“I think you have vital ground at Children of Peace,” said Sister Mary Paul McCaughney, a school official.
The school has 242 students, 32 of whom are deaf. Partelow, noting how small a portion of the enrollment is hearing impaired, questioned the school’s mission. But school officials say mainstreaming hearing-impaired students is a core part of their mission.
They add that the school does not plan to increase enrollment beyond 270 students. The commission rejected a school proposal in 2005 to add high school grades and increase enrollment to 900 students. That dramatic increase in size was one reason the proposal was turned down, said Samuel Pruett, executive director of the Illinois Medical District.
More than 60 percent of students’ parents work in the medical district, making it easy on families to bring their children to school, said Murphy. The medical district, created by the Illinois legislature in 1941, is bounded by Congress Parkway on the north, Roosevelt Road on the south, Western Avenue on the west and Ashland Avenue on the east. The district includes Rush University Medical Center, Stroger Hospital, and the University of Illinois at Chicago health sciences campus.