British School plans altered; reaction mixed
April 5, 2013
McCaffrery Interests’ and Antunovich Associates’ plan for the British School, featuring a split-level park.

By Dolly Duplantier

Approximately 25 people, including Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward), braved the March 5 snowstorm to hear updates about the proposed British School coming to the South Loop’s Roosevelt Collection, a McCaffery Interests project.

Architect Joe Antunovich, president of Antunovich Associates, presented updated plans for the proposed two-story, 75,000 square foot building. Changes included a new location for a staircase leading to the rooftop park. The firm also changed the field adjacent to the school to reflect more recreational options.

The major point of contention, a promised 2.2-acre park, remained unchanged. The park acreage remains divided among four separate sections: a rooftop garden, a recreational field programmed by the school, a courtyard in the Roosevelt Collection retail center, and another green space just north of 9th Street.

“We still have more than the 92,000 square feet of open space called for in the original PD [planned development],” said Antunovich. “Except that now it is on two levels.”

“Landscaping on top of a building is a poor substitute for a real park,” said Dennis McClendon, vice president of South Loop Neighbors. “It’s less than half the size of the promised park, and it’s inconvenient to anyone except the residents of the Roosevelt Collection itself.”

One resident questioned how the developers could claim they exceed the space required by the plan when half of it is not available for a large part of the day. Dan McCaffery, CEO of McCaffery Interests, promised to draw up a document about sharing the recreational space. He would like to see the school publish its field schedule each year and then give the community a chance to review it.

‘Not a park for everybody’

“It’s not going to be a park for everybody in the afternoon or early evening,” said one resident. “There’s constant after school activity up until dusk.”

“As far as the school’s playing fields, we simply don’t believe public access is realistic,” said McClendon. “No matter what has been promised up front, after a couple of years or a couple of unpleasant encounters with pet waste or sleeping bums, the school will simply lock the gate.”

Neighbors echoed McClendon’s concern. “What protects us from the British School taking control later down the road?” one asked.

McCaffery said those issues could be addressed by amending the PD so park access would be a condition of the school’s lease. “I think the British School is a very positive thing for the neighborhood,” said Adam Richer. “I’ve lived here for 14 years. My wife and I have a child, and we are now actually saving to send our son to the British School. It astounds me that people are squabbling over some minor little areas that are going to be programmed by the school when you are going to have a fantastic rooftop park, a great little park across the street, and a boon to the economy.”

“My major concern is traffic and parking,” said another resident of the area. “I think it’s a major issue for people that live down here, and it will undoubtedly make it worse.”

Marion Carow agreed. She has lived in the area for 12 years and worries about parking and traffic for faculty and the hundreds of students who will come to school each day. “Wells and Polk are one way in and one way out,” she said. “I just can’t see anything but a huge merry-go-round of traffic.”

McCaffery said owners would assign a traffic engineer to the project and stated the Roosevelt Collection garage has plenty of parking. Solis believes officials eventually will reconfigure Wells Street to go through and said they have dedicated some money to infrastructure work. According to Antunovich, IDOT is considering continuing 9th Street under the railroad tracks. Parents of current British School students said the school might offer a shuttle between campuses and the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line.

‘Elevate the quality’

“I honestly thought what we were doing would elevate the quality of the neighborhood,” said McCaffery. “The notion came along about putting a school there. If we weren’t going to make any money anyway, the school sounds like a wonderful amenity to the community.”

For those who continue to fight for a neighborhood public high school, a new private high school with an annual tuition of almost $30,000 and kids being bused in is not a wonderful community amenity. “It’s not just about the park, but also about the high school issue,” said one resident.
“Not everyone living in this area can afford the British School.”

“The South Loop has an abundance of land for growth, development, and green spaces,” said Janelle Myers, president of the newly formed South Loop Education Task Force. “There’s room for both the school and a park. A compromise has to be reached.”

Any other site probably would not be as financially attractive, considering McCaffery is in effect giving the school the land. Edmund Woodbury, president of McCaffery Interests, said his group will construct the school’s new building at a projected cost of $20 million but stressed the company is not making a profit. The leasing agreement will provide that the British School pays property taxes on the land and improvements.

Calls to the British School received no response. In the next step, the developer will meet with the Chicago Plan Commission; such meetings are open to the public and usually held the third Thursday of each month. Developers hope to meet in May.

If the Plan Commission approves the amendment to the existing PD, it then goes to the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards, which Solis chairs. Solis said he has not received calls from people with strong opposition.

Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward), however, said he has received a number of calls from residents opposed to the British School development. “I am hearing from residents loud and clear,” Fioretti said.

Which alderman?

Fioretti currently is the alderman under whose jurisdiction the parcel in question falls; Solis will be the site’s alderman after the ward remap takes effect in 2015. Solis is watching how the community and neighborhood organizations respond. “I’ll let the general public give me their stand on whether they support it or not,” Solis said.

“The PD guaranteed a park, not a park on top of a building,” countered Fioretti. “There’s plenty of space in the South Loop. I told developers you have a long way to go to sell this. I am the alderman. I make the decisions. He [Solis] may think he is, but I will make the decisions.”

The British School hopes to open its doors in fall 2014.

McCaffery said public access to the rooftop park and field would begin sometime in spring 2015. Contact Fioretti at (312) 263-9273 or (312) 744-6836. E-mail him at ward02@cityofchicago.org or visit his website at http://bobfioretti.com/home. Solis can be reached at (773) 523-4100 or (312) 744-6845. Email him at ward25chicago@gmail.com. His website is http://ward25.com.

Information regarding upcoming Plan Commission meetings can be found at www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/chicago_plan_commission.html.