Austin’s Chicago Jesuit Academy, 5058 W. Jackson Blvd., a Catholic elementary school that currently only enrolls boys in the third through eighth grades, is preparing to add a school for girls to its campus. 

The Chicago Academy, which opened in 2007, shares the campus with Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School. According to the Academy officials, Jesuit schools are traditionally either all-boys or all-girls, and they decided to make this school all-boys after getting community feedback about the need for an all-boys institution on the West Side. Since then, parents, alumni and community residents have been asking the school to create something similar for girls. 

The Academy decided to build a separate girls’ school on what is currently the campus parking lot and buy up some nearby homes and city-owned lots to build replacement parking. 

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the portion of Austin the campus is in, said that, since the original Academy was built as a planned development, the city council needs to approve the project. The Academy hopes to complete the project in June 2023.

Chicago Jesuit Academy and Christ the King College occupy the former St. Martin de Porres Parish elementary school property, with the Academy taking over the L-shaped former school building on the northeast side of the lot and Christ the King building a brand new, similarly L-shaped school on the southwest side of the lot. The parking lot is located on the north side of the property, between the two school buildings.

The Academy held a virtual meeting on June 10 to share the details about the plans. According to the presentation, the new addition would be built over the parking lot, with a new entrance linking together two buildings. 

Tom Van Grinsven, the academy’s vice president of operations, said that the green space that’s currently between Holy Cross and the parking lot will function more like a quad for the entire campus.

To make up for the loss of the parking lot, the academy plans to build two parking lots for both schools. Van Grinsven said the owner of 5099 W. Jackson Blvd. agreed to sell the property to the school, and they plan on buying a city-owned lot at 5093 W. Jackson Blvd. The second parking lot would be located closer to the Academy, at 5043-5047 W. Quincy St. 

When asked about local hiring, Van Grinsven said that their priority would be to hire the alumni who work in trades. Chicago Jesuit Academy President Mathew Lynch explained that the school found that they had to build their own pipeline to make sure their students can get into trades after they graduate, working with East Garfield Park-based Revolution Workshop, 3410 W. Lake St., to train them once they are old enough to qualify. 

Van Grinsven said that the majority of the students come from Austin, West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Little Village, with a “significant number of students” coming from west suburban Maywood, Bellwood and Berkley. 

Ervin said that the changes to the planned development would need to clear the Chicago Plan Commission before going to the City Council for final approval. He said that he didn’t expect the process to start until late this year. 

Van Grinsven said that they hope to start construction in January 2022, with the goal of getting the school up and running in time for the start of 2023-24 school year begins in June. 

Academy officials said Friday that the total current budget for the project, including architectural design, construction and furnishings, is $25 million.

“In the past year, we have raised $15.6 million in support of our campus expansion and the creation of the new girls’ program,” Lynch explained in an email statement. “We expect to raise the remaining $9.4 million by November.”

Ervin said that he supported the project and that he was pleased with the community outreach the academy has done. 

“I think it’s a positive addition for the community,” he said, adding that he thought it offered a great preparation for a high school and that the more kids could enroll in quality elementary schools, the better. 

Lynch said that the project will benefit new students and existing families alike.

“One of the big parts of why we’re doing it is we love the idea of what the campus will become — an accessible, [quality] education for any child in third through eighth grades,” he said.  

“We ask families with sons and daughters to straddle two different schools and different schedules,” he added. “And the thought that they [will] have two children under one roof is very attractive for a lot of our families, and we’re excited that they will both be on campus.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...