$423 million capital spending plan released

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With four overcrowded schools getting much-fought-for additions, and the expansion or renovation of selective enrollment high schools, CPS will spend more than half of the capital improvement budget in the coming year on the North and Northwest sides of the city.

Edwards Elementary, which is in McKinley Park on the Southwest Side, is the only school not on the North or Northwest Side to get a major addition. The other schools slated to get annexes are Wildwood, Jamieson, Edwards and Canty.

Lincoln Elementary School also is set to get an addition. CPS says a state grant it received last year will pay for the addition so it is not listed as part of the $423 million capital improvement budget.

Among high schools, Walter Payton will get an expansion, the proposed Barack Obama College Prep will be built and Lane Tech will get $22 million in improvements. The latest assessment of the Lane campus called for about $60 million in upgrades.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett noted that Lane Tech is a “Blue Ribbon” high school that serves 4,100 students. “Without these investments, it becomes a safety issue for us,” she said.

Most of the major projects in the plan, released Thursday night, have already been announced. They include air conditioning for 55 schools, new labs in 10 schools and improvements in seven schools that are undergoing restructuring, such as the three new turnaround schools. 

It is worth noting that CPS plan to borrow just $260 million through bonds—one of the smallest amounts the district has financed for capital projects over the last decade. The rest of the money will come from state grants or other outside sources.

In fact, much of the investment on the North Side comes from tax increment financing funds, including the money for Payton, the recently announced Barack Obama High School and the addition for Wildwood.

Only $17 million of the capital improvement money will be spent on the West Side. Crane High School will get a new sports field and 15 elementary schools will have small projects done, including four play lots. 

Many of the smaller projects are art and science labs or air conditioning in elementary schools and just a small portion of the capital money will go to high schools. Bowen on the South Side will get a welding and manufacturing lab.

CPS also plans to put 20 “college and career suites” in high schools. Byrd-Bennett described these as places where students can research colleges on the computer, take virtual tours and get help filling out financial aid forms.

“Some high schools have these. Every high school should,” Byrd-Bennett said.

These projects are in line with the district’s 10-year master facilities plan, said Todd Babbitz, executive director of strategy management at CPS.  Some people have criticized the spending on North Side selective enrollment high schools.

“We talk in the plan about the need to increase seats and these schools are centrally located,” he said.