City Council approves $8 million TIF funds for Near South Side high school

Housing advocates and residents are angry at the plan to build the school on land that was slated for public housing. Some say the school shouldn’t be built until the district fully analyzes how it would affect nearby historically Black schools.

SHARE City Council approves $8 million TIF funds for Near South Side high school
The City Council voted Wednesday to give $8 million from a special taxing district to buy land at 24th and State streets from the Chicago Housing Authority for the new school. 

The City Council voted Wednesday to give $8 million from a special taxing district to buy land at 24th and State streets from the Chicago Housing Authority for the new school.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

The City Council on Wednesday agreed to provide funds to help build a controversial new $150 million high school on the Near South Side that critics say could harm nearby schools that are already facing dwindling enrollment, draining them of funding and students.

The action comes after the Finance Committee had voted on Monday in favor of using $8 million in tax increment financing (TIF) to buy land at 24th and State streets from the Chicago Housing Authority for the proposed 1,200-student neighborhood school.

Critics have questioned whether a school system suffering from falling enrollment should build any new schools, let alone one from which state Rep. Theresa Mah has promised to block $50 million in state funding.

But two local alderpersons — Pat Dowell (3rd) and Nicole Lee (11th) — noted the “huge population explosion” in the immediate area, which forces more than 2,000 local high school students to travel long distances to schools outside their neighborhoods.

At a news conference after Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot shrugged at the $30 million increase in the projected cost of building the new school, arguing that, “The cost of construction everywhere has gone up.” The city is grappling with those increases “across every single project that we’re involved with as a city.

“You heard today from Alderwoman [Nicole] Lee about the fact that kids of Chinatown are traveling 90 minutes or more one way to go to high school,” the mayor said.Now once this high school is up and operational, they’ll be able to walk to school in their community. So this is a good thing for our city. It’s a good thing to meet the needs of a growing area and population. And we will get it done.”

Housing advocates and residents are angry at the plan to build the school on land that was slated for public housing. The CHA has said it plans to build the subsidized housing it promised to the community on another parcel nearby.

Mah, who has long been a supporter of an open-enrollment high school for Near South residents, said at a school board meeting in September the city has not taken genuine community concerns into consideration.

“If the mayor and CPS truly listened to community members, they would understand that it is possible for advocates to be for a new high school but not support the currently proposed site.”

Some say the school shouldn’t be built until the district leads a difficult discussion about the intrinsic race and class issues. Last year, a team of senior officials at CPS privately warned leaders that the project could undermine historically Black schools in the area and ultimately hurt Black students. Those schools are Wells Community Academy, Wendell Phillips Academy and Tilden High School.

They wrote in a confidential memo that their preliminary analysis showed a new school would “accelerate the enrollment declines in several nearby schools, causing the schools to be constrained financially and academically in providing an equitable learning experience to all students.”

Chicago Public Schools insists the school will help Black students in the area, as well as Asian students, cutting their commute times significantly while perhaps drawing thousands of children who live in the area but don’t attend nearby schools.

The boundaries for the school capture Chinatown, South Loop, Bridgeport, Douglas and parts of the Near West Side.

Contributing: Nader Issa, Sarah Karp, Lauren FitzPatrick and Natalie Y. Moore

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