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South Loop also getting a new school to ease overcrowding

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) | Sun-Times file photo

Another school community complaining of overcrowding is getting a new building, Chicago Public Schools told parents.

But the broke district doesn’t have details about how it will pay for the school to be built in the South Loop for up to 1,200 elementary students.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward includes the new South Loop school, said she’s aware of the project but doesn’t want to talk about it.

“I’m not prepared to talk about all the details yet. I’ll talk about that maybe next week,” she said.

But Dowell did say the school is desperately needed to ease overcrowding. CPS said the school has 868 students in a building meant for 690.

District spokesman Michael Passman wouldn’t say who else is in line for a new school or annex.

He denied that the plans were hatched in secret, saying that CPS “regularly hosts parent meetings to identify ways to best address capacity issues facing the city’s most overcrowded schools. While the district faces significant financial challenges, we also have a responsibility to provide children across the city with the tools they need to obtain a 21st century education and to address overcrowding or any other barrier to academic success.”

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on plans for a new elementary school in the booming South Loop.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has quietly agreed to build a new school and a school addition to ease severe overcrowding on the Southwest Side in a good-news announcement cloaked in secrecy.

The decision to build a 16-classroom annex at Byrne Elementary, 5329 S. Oak Park, and a new school at 65th and Nottingham to replace Dore Elementary, 6108 S. Natoma, was unveiled at invitation-only meetings at the respective schools May 14.

Ald. Mike Zalewski (23rd), whose ward includes the two overcrowded schools, was among the VIPs in attendance.

Zalewski said the mayor gave no details about the cost of the school and school addition or the where the money would come from at a time when the nearly bankrupt Chicago Public School system is bracing for devastating classroom cuts.

That just might explain the stealth announcement. City Hall may want to keep the lid on any expansion plans at a time when it’s pleading for hundreds of millions of dollars in pension help from the General Assembly in the waning days of the spring session.

Last fall, Emanuel persuaded a reluctant City Council to raise property taxes by a record $543 million for police and fire pensions and by another $45 million for school construction.

The flurry of new schools and school additions will apparently be bankrolled by that $45 million school construction levy.

That allows Emanuel to curry favor with aldermen emboldened by his 25 percent approval rating by unveiling school construction projects all over town.

But the list of political goodies begs the question once again: How did some school construction projects move to the top of the list while other worthwhile projects take a back seat?

The same questions were raised a few years ago when Emanuel unveiled his now stalled plan to build a new selective enrollment high school that he initially planned to name after President Barack Obama and build a massive addition to Walter Payton College Prep.