The Chicago Housing Authority is looking to take over the North Lawndale's Nathaniel Pope Elementary School building, located at 1852 S. Albany Ave., near the southwest corner of Douglas Park. The school was one of the many West Side schools that were closed in 2013.
The CHA plans to turn the first two floors into administrative offices and put residential units on the third floor. Ald. Michael Scott (24th) said that he's working with Ravinia Festival to put a music school in the building.
The application cleared the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on Nov. 15, but the deal still needs the approval of the full council to go forward.
Pope Elementary originally opened in 1918. According to an April 19, 2013 report by CPS hearing officer Patrick McGann, it was targeted for closing because it fell below the district's utilization standards. At the time of its closing, the school had 179 students — significantly less than the CPS ideal enrollment range of between 432 and 648 students.
The report also indicated that the proposal to close the school faced significant pushback from community residents, who described the school as an important civic institution that they were willing to support.
Then-alderman Michael Chandler (24th) argued that the area around the school had undergone economic redevelopment, so the enrollment numbers could have increased. Chandler also pointed to the fact that the school had been doing better academically in recent years. But the CPS board of education ultimately decided to go through with the decision.
In his testimony to the zoning committee, Scott said that, since Pope Elementary closed, there have been several attempts to reuse the building. Chandler tried, unsuccessfully, to find another school that could take it over.
Scott said that, since he took office in 2015, he's held several community meetings about the fate of the building, and that getting affordable housing in the building, especially if it caters to seniors and veterans, emerged as a major priority.
"We had community meetings a couple of times and that's what they want for the top floor of that building," the alderman said.
In July, according to city documents, the Chicago Board of Education voted to ask the Chicago Commission of Public Buildings, which currently holds the title to the property, to transfer the title to CHA — a request that public buildings commissioners granted. Before the housing agency takes control of the title, however, the city will need to change the zoning to allow the building to be used for non-educational purposes.
The CHA's plans that were submitted to the committee show a total of 14 one-bedroom units on the third floor, with three larger units located right above the main entrance. The second-floor would have four call center rooms, four offices for building inspectors and a conference room.
The first floor would have two more conference rooms, a reception room and five office spaces. But not everything on that floor will be CHA space. Plans call for keeping the building's existing auditorium an office for an unspecified "community partner."
Ald. Scott said that he would make sure that residents within the community, and particularly African Americans, are employed during the rehabilitation process.
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