Fioretti, PDNA want to save old Jones building
December 1, 2011

By Patrick Butler

Construction has started on a new Jones College Prep at 700 S. State, scheduled to open with 1,200 students in fall 2013. The conversation on the new school’s future, and that of the “old” Jones building, has only just started as well, so far as 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti and Prairie District Neighborhood Association Education Task Force Chair John Jacoby are concerned.

Jacoby said his group plans a series of public meetings on the old Jones building’s future right after the holidays. While the City’s Public Building Commission (PBC) would like to tear down the existing 1967 building, which the PBC said would cost $40 million to renovate, Fioretti has been spearheading a campaign to keep the building as “a neighborhood high school” or middle school, he said, after Jones moves next door.

The cost of a new gym in the existing building would be $10 million, the PBC said. Not if the students in that old building share the state-of-the-art gym and swimming pool in the new building, Fioretti countered.

In a Nov. 11 letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Fioretti said the PBC said estimated cost overruns would account for another $10 million of the $40 million in renovation costs. Belt tightening concerning overruns could reduce that figure, advocates of saving the old building believe.

Fioretti said he has fought for several years to keep the old building as a neighborhood high school, with 300 guaranteed places for students from the neighborhood. What the new school’s service area would be still has to be determined by the Chicago Public Schools, but Leslie Recht, Fioretti’s education liaison, said the school boundaries almost certainly would include a wide area embracing Chinatown, the South Loop, and Bridgeport.

Jones principal Joseph Powers had told a community meeting two years ago when plans for the new school building first were unveiled that while Jones will continue its “selective enrollment” policy, a still undetermined criterion would be used for picking up to 300 neighborhood students. At the same time, Powers told the Gazette, “we do not want two schools. No one wants ‘those kids’ and ‘our kids.’” Powers also said at the time that Jones already has “quite a few students” who already live in the South Loop.

The new $85 million, 278,000-square-foot, seven-floor Jones College Prep school building’s amenities will include classrooms, computer and science labs, an auditorium, a library, a kitchen and dining room, and a fitness/weight room as well as a gymnasium and a six-lane pool. Plans also call for 75 parking spaces. CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan confirmed that no decision on what to do with the old building has yet been made, but that “we continue to work with stakeholders on this matter.”

Shuftan added that having an existing school near a new one under construction isn’t all that unusual. “That was the case last year and earlier this year with South Shore High School and Powell Elementary School,” also on the South Side, Shuftan said. While Jacoby conceded that accommodating two enrollment populations seems like a tall order, the area has a history of accommodating unconventional public school programs.

“South Loop [Elementary] was a hybrid school with a regional gifted center, magnet cluster, neighborhood school,” Jacoby said. “The new Skinner Campus is a blended school with neighborhood seats and classical selective seats. “I don’t know if the CPS has been wringing its hands over this,” Jacoby said concerning the plan to have both selective enrollment and neighborhood seats, “but they have been very good about working with the community on things like this.”

Jacoby had served on the South Loop School LSC until his daughter graduated and moved on to Jones.
Powers said programs at the new Jones would be designed to help an anticipated 300 students from a two-and-a-half-mile radius fit in with those who “tested into” the selective enrollment program. The neighborhood students possibly would be selected by lottery, Powers added.

In his letter to Emanuel, Fioretti said a number of his constituents have asked for a “quality” neighborhood school, noting that Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School, 2225 W. Jackson Blvd., and Wendell Phillips Academy High School, 244 E. Pershing Rd., are the nearest regular high schools–which Jacoby said many parents consider too far away.

Fioretti said that while renovating the current Jones College Prep building could be paid for with tax increment financing funds rather than CPS money, he would be against using TIF money to demolish the current Jones building as PBC recommends.

The “old” facility could be used in any number of ways, according to Fioretti. “I have asked CPS to use the existing Jones building as a neighborhood high school to serve the downtown, Near South, and Near West areas after the new Jones is built,” Fioretti noted. “I have also asked CPS to consider putting seventh and eight grade students in the existing Jones building as a means of alleviating overcrowding at South Loop Elementary.”

Powers said that while he would have no say about how the old building would be used, he personally would like to see the building kept as a school rather than sold to a developer or razed for green space.

Both Fioretti and Powers said it is important to save and upgrade as many public school resources as possible to stem the growing flight of families to the suburbs as soon as their kids reach high school age. “Keeping those families in Chicago needs to be part of your vision for the Chicago you want to build,” Fioretti said in his letter to Emanuel. “If you create quality educational programs, with guaranteed seats, then families will choose to stay in the city.” Also in the letter, he requested a meeting with Emanuel and CPS officials. The school was named for William Jones, first president of the Chicago Board of Education.

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