Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=105443
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 2:12:32 PM CST
A fight over school expansion has pitted a major medical center against a small school for the hearing impaired.
Children of Peace is located in the center of the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side. The school is on land under the jurisdiction of the district. In order for the school to renovate or expand, it must have the approval of the commission, which is where the fight begins.
“It seems like what [the commission is] suggesting to us is that we should not try to make this school a better school,” said Maureen Murphy, legal counsel for Children of Peace. “Because at some point in the future … the commission may decide that it wants to take this property.”
School officials want to build a connection between their two buildings, which would add five classrooms and safe passage for students who currently have to walk across a parking lot between the buildings. The extra space will also bring facilities up to standards, Murphy said.Some school officials believe the commission wants to push the school out of the current location so they can use the land for other purposes.
The commission has discussed using the school’s land as a potential site for University of Illinois at Chicago health sciences campus expansion, said commissioner John Partelow, but that they have not voted to do anything with the land.A commission presentation playing continuously on a screen at the hearing read, “This is vital ground.”
“I think you have vital ground at Children of Peace,” said Sister Mary Paul McCaughney, a school official.
The school was built on at the northwest corner of Taylor and Wolcott as a school for the hearing impaired in 1962, with the agreement that it could remain as long as its purpose didn’t change. If the school’s mission changes, it opens the possibility for the commission to claim the land.
The school has 242 students, 32 of whom are deaf. Partelow, noting how small a portion of the enrollment is hearing impaired, questioned the school’s mission. School officials say mainstreaming hearing impaired students is a core part of their mission.
They say they do not plan to increase enrollment above 270 students. The commission rejected a school proposal in 2005 to add high school grades and increase enrollment to 900 students. That dramatic increase in size was one reason the proposal was turned down, said Samuel Pruett, Illinois Medical District executive director.
More than 60 percent of students’ parents work in the medical district, making it easy on families to bring their children to school, Murphy said.
The medical district, created by the Illinois legislature in 1941, is bounded by Congress Parkway on the north, Roosevelt Road on the south, Western Avenue on the west and Ashland Avenue on the east.
The district includes Rush University Medical Center, Stroger Hospital, University of Illinois at Chicago Health Sciences Campus.