The Austin community’s ASPIRE Initiative will kickstart this year with the launch of the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation project. Here is some background information on how this important effort began:

● 2018
The Austin Forward. Together. (AFT) quality-of-life plan is created to address a set of comprehensive, community-led strategies for neighborhood change. Over 500 community stakeholders contributed ideas that aim to attract, coordinate, and support opportunities to improve the community’s narrative, education, housing, youth empowerment, economic development, public safety, and civic engagement.
Westside Health Authority (WHA) purchases the Robert Emmet Elementary School property from Chicago Public Schools in 2018, after sitting vacant since it closed in 2013. WHA commits to allow the AFT plan to inform the redevelopment of the school.
A visioning session is hosted by the planners at Teska Associates to brainstorm ways the community could address critical needs through projects like ASPIRE.

● 2019
The architectural firm Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC) begins working with ACT on a pro-bono basis to develop a plan for repurposing the vacant Robert Emmet Elementary School into Austin’s Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation. Later LJC was contracted to complete the schematic design and design development for the unique opportunity to bring economic vitality and social change to the intersection of Madison and Central. This connection was made possible through United Way of Metro Chicago.

● 2020
The ASPIRE Initiative was developed in response to the $10 million Chicago Prize opportunity provided by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. The effort incorporates several goals and ideas from the community’s AFT plan and outlines how Austin can build a stronger cradle-to-career pipeline through four investments strategically clustered around existing assets in an area bound by Madison, Chicago, Central, and Laramie Avenues: The Aspire Education & Wellness Campus; Aspire Austin College & Career Academy; The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation; and Aspire Housing. The $121-million-dollar ASPIRE project is a collaboration between ACT, Westside Health Authority, and By The Hand Club For Kids, and supported by IFF, Applegate & Thorne- Thomsen, Krista Inc., Purpose Built Communities. ASPIRE is named among the six finalists and starts garnering investments.

● 2021
Years of work advances in just several months due to the Chicago Prize opportunity. Although not selected as the winning project, the process confirms the need for prioritizing one of ASPIRE’s four projects. With this in mind, the ASPIRE Center for Workforce Innovation was selected to serve as a starting point to catalyze the development of ASPIRE’s full set of Initiative Projects.

Prioritization of the Aspire Center leads to several funding commitments: $250K from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois; $10K from Chicago Community Trust; $50K from The Joyce Foundation; $22K through contributions from Austin community stakeholders; $500K from The Pritzker Traubert Foundation; $5.09M from the United Way of Metro Chicago; $10 million from an IL DCEO grant from a capital bill, sponsored by IL State Representative, La Shawn K. Ford.
The Emmet School property zoning is changed from RT-4 to B3-2 by the city’s department of planning and development in December 2021.

● 2022
Brown & Momen, Inc. is selected as the general contractor to build the Aspire Center.
○ In May, the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation is awarded $7.25 million in funding from the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development as part of the Chicago Recovery Plan, a citywide effort to catalyze a sustainable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of all grantees in round one, Aspire is given the largest funding amount. This support means the Aspire Center has 90% of the funds needed to proceed with construction, which is anticipated to begin as early as October 2022.