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Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an announcement about a $1 billion capital spend in July at Cardenas Elementary in Little Village.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an announcement about a $1 billion capital spend in July at Cardenas Elementary in Little Village.

CPS to spend $1 billion on campus improvements, including two new West Side schools

Chicago Public Schools is plunging $1 billion into campus investments, a plan that includes two new West Side schools and two new classical schools, the district announced Friday.

Of the West Side openings, one will be an open-enrollment high school—CPS CEO Janice Jackson would not elaborate on the exact neighborhood—and the other will be an elementary school in Belmont-Cragin, which borders Austin on the far West Side.

CPS will also open two new classical schools—one in Bronzeville and one on the Southwest Side. And it will expand classical programs at McDade (near Chatham), Poe (in the Pullman neighborhood), and Decatur (in West Ridge) by adding seventh and eighth grades. McDade, Poe, and Decatur previously offered only kindergarten through sixth grades, leaving parents to scramble to find high-quality middle school programs to bridge the gap to high school.

The city’s high-demand classical programs are selective enrollment schools with a challenging, liberal arts focus, and students typically test in. Last school year, the district’s five classical programs denied seats to more than 1,000 students who had qualifying test scores.

The new schools and classical expansion were announced as part of a larger plan to boost capital spending from a meager $189 million for the new school year to nearly $1 billion—though it appears some projects listed as part of the $1 billion spend will be spread across several years. The list of improvements includes several items, such as capital costs related to the introduction of universal pre-kindergarten, that were previously announced.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and district CEO Jackson made the first of two announcements Friday at Lazaro Cardenas Elementary School, a neighborhood elementary school in Little Village. On July 1, Cardenas, which serves pre-kindergarten through third grades, merged with Castellanos, which serves grades four through eight.

“This is a historic capital budget,” said Emanuel, standing in front of library shelves stocked with popular books such as “Pete the Cat” and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” “These investments will ensure that there is equity in our system.”

Emanuel ticked off some of the cornerstones of the capital spending proposal, most of which have been announced prior: a universal pre-K program for all 4-year-olds that will cost nearly $175 million by 2021 (a first year capital spend of $18 million is part of the $1 billion plan; other costs to roll it out in the first year will come from the operating budget) and a plan to retrofit all high school science labs to bring them up to date—a cost of $75 million to be spread out over three years.

To foot the nearly $1 billion bill, the district will largely rely on borrowing. CPS anticipates selling $313 million of general obligation bonds and up to $125 million of Capital Improvement Tax bonds; the remaining $300 million will get financed at a later date as expenditures roll in. In addition, a spokeswoman said CPS anticipates a bond refunding of up to $500 million, which let it swap out debt and save money on the interest.

The district is also counting on extra monies from the state revamp of the education funding formula. That revamp yielded Chicago Public Schools roughly $350 million more this year, with $200 million of that intended to cover unfunded pension obligations.

Estimated SourcesEstimated Sources (Thousands)
Total FY 2019 Capital Budget Sources$989,000
Anticipated Bond Offers and Other Capital Funds$749,900
Prior Year Bond Proceeds$189,100
Other Potential Outside Funding$43,000
Federal E-Rate Funding$7,000


Estimated UsesEstimated Spend (Thousands)
Total FY 2019 Capital Budget Uses$989,000
Educational Programming$339,200
Facility Needs$335,650
Overcrowding Relief$138,000
IT, Security, & Building System Investments$88,000
Site Improvements$45,700
Capital Project Support Services$25,250
Potential Land Acquisitions$16,000
Potential Externally Funded Projects$1,200

Supplemental funding sources include a $15 million federal grant that will be used to pay to convert three neighborhood elementary schools to magnet programs. The three neighborhood elementary schools that will be converted to STEM magnet programs are William H. Brown Elementary on the Near West Side, Claremont Academy Elementary in Englewood, and Joseph Jungman in Pilsen.

A closer look at the plan

The mayor also stressed an annual investment of $25 million over three years in technology, including new devices for every student at 20 elementary schools – among them is Cardenas, Principal Jeremy Feiwell said after the meeting – and some upgrades of devices and broadband infrastructure at 40 additional schools. “The language of the future is technology and computers,” said Emanuel. To illustrate the point, next door to the press conference, a room of elementary-aged students sat in a computer lab playing math games on Dell computers.

Among the other items included in the $1 billion spend:

  • $4 million for security equipment, including cameras, intercom phones, alarms, and “screening equipment” at 50 schools;
  • A new building for Hancock High School on the Southwest side;
  • “Significant building renovations” for Hyde Park High School to better support the school’s International Baccalaureate program.
  • A new vocational wing for Prosser Career Academy in support of Chicago Builds, a 2-year training program in the building trades for 11th and 12th grade students;
  • The relocation, previously announced, of Rickover Naval Academy into the former Luther North, which would be renovated;
  • Renovations at Senn High School on the city’s North Side;
  • Annexes to relieve overcrowding at Dirksen, Palmer, Rogers and Waters elementary schools;
  • $46 million in site improvements to design and build playgrounds, play lots, and turf fields at schools across the city;
  • $336 million for repair and replacement to structural items like roofs and building envelopes.

The Chicago Teachers Union quickly issued a statement, calling the announcement a “stunt” in the ramp up to next year’s mayoral election.

Community groups, meanwhile, were still trying to digest the news and assess the impact. “Parents worry about how new schools impact existing schools,” said Juan Cruz, a Communities United organizer who is active in Belmont Cragin, where a new elementary is proposed. “Schools in Belmont Cragin are all very close to each other. I will be very interested to know where they will build this school and not affect the other schools.”

The public will have a chance to provide feedback. Capital hearings will be held on from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 19 at the following locations:

  • Truman College, 1145 W Wilson Ave;
  • Malcolm X College, 1900 W Jackson Blvd;
  • Kennedy King College’s U Building, 740 W 63rd St.

Additionally, the district will hold two budget hearings at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. July 16 at the CPS Central Office, 42 W. Madison St.