Transparency Over Near South Side High School Plan
Chicago Public Schools promised to listen to residents concerning the school location but did closed door planning for months. Appraisals for purchased land differ by millions of dollars, records show.
Emeline Posner, Illinois Answers Project and Jewél Jackson, Illinois Answers Project Aug 22, 2023 The site of Chicago Public School’s new Near South Side high school is seen, looking north, at 2400 S. State St. on Thursday, June 22, 2023.Trent Sprague/For Illinois Answers Project CHICAGO — When Chicago Public Schools first announced a plan in June of last year to build a new $120 million high
school on the Near South Side, officials assured residents they would play a key role in the project over the coming months. But for nearly a year, CPS worked behind closed doors with the Chicago Housing Authority and city departments to negotiate a land-swap deal that would allow the district to build the school – later projected to cost $150 million —on a portion of public housing land, the former Harold Ickes Homes, according to public records obtained by the Illinois Answers Project.
In return for a long-term lease on the public housing land, CPS agreed to buy nearby land for the CHA. CPS bought the land for $10.3 million, even though one appraiser on the deal estimated the land value at just $7.7 million, records show.These records, which include more than 1,500 pages of land appraisals, real estate agreements and internal emails between officials, offer a closer look at the school’s
development process — which some critics say has not been transparent or involved the community in a meaningful way.
An Illinois Answers review of the documents found that:
• CPS, the CHA and the city began meeting in the fall of
2020 to consider potential locations for the new Near
South Side High School.
• By July 2021, the three entities were intent on pursuing
the land-swap plan — CPS would lease the former Ickes
public housing land at 24th and State to build the
school and buy replacement land at 23rd and Wabash for
the CHA — despite anticipating community opposition.
• When CPS received an appraisal report that valued the
Wabash land at $7.7 million, district counsel reached out to
a second firm to research the first report and provide a
new valuation. The second firm valued the land at $10.275
million, then raised the value to $10.32 million.