Jones athletic field to be built on former Ickes Homes land
May 2, 2014
The new athletic field will feature a track and a football/soccer field with synthetic turf.

By Dolly Duplantier

The City of Chicago plans to assist the Board of Education in constructing a 3.5-acre track and field facility for William Jones College Prep High School. The new athletic site would be located at 2301-57 S. Dearborn St. on a portion of land that once held the Harold Ickes Homes. The 82,000 square foot artificial turf field will accommodate high school football and soccer practice fields. The fourlane running track will also include long jump, high jump and pole vault infrastructure.

For the past 15 years, Jones teams have used the gym and field at the former Near North High School, about five miles from Jones, which is located at 700 S. State St. “The new track and field, which is adjacent to the National Teachers Academy [55 W. Cermak Rd.], will provide us with athletic facilities for men’s and women’s soccer, track, and cross country as well as other school activities,” explained P. Joseph Powers, EdD, Jones’s principal.

“The athletic field will be a great amenity, and I am glad neighborhood residents will have access when it is not in use,” said Josh Ellis, a board member of the Greater South Loop Association.

The Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC) is managing the design and construction of the project on behalf of CPS.

According to PBC spokesperson, Molly Sullivan, CPS will have an agreement for community use as it does for other school facilities that will spell out the terms of use for the community. “The current cost estimate is $2.8 million for construction of the field,” said Sullivan. “The funding source for the work is from TIF funds associated with the development of Jones College Prep.”

The project was publicly advertised for bid. Sullivan said the project would be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.

“I have received nothing but positive feedback from the residents of my ward regarding the new athletic field,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. “It’s always good to have open space in the community, and it can only enhance the CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] Plan for Transformation on the former Ickes site.”

Residents want to return

Yet those who used to call that land home still wonder when they can return to their changing community. “Economically, I’m good with the development of the area,” said Lori Williams, a former CHA Harold Ickes Homes resident who moved there when she was four. “I just want to know, why can’t I be a part of it?”

The 11-building Ickes development once housed more than 1,000 families. The CHA’s Plan for Transformation began in 2000 to rehabilitate or redevelop 25,000 units of public housing in Chicago, replacing low-income, highrise housing projects with mixed-income communities.

In April 2010 workers tore down the last of the Ickes buildings.

“We were literally the last family to leave,” said Williams, who moved with her family to the Dearborn Homes near 29th and State Streets. Four years later, she still has not seen any plans about when she can return, and she is perplexed at how some things are moving forward, including a land swap between the CHA and Chicago Public Schools, as well as the approval and approaching construction of the athletic field.

“The Chicago Housing Authority plans to bring back mixedincome housing, including public housing units, on remaining portions of the Ickes site as we work to build strong, vibrant communities throughout Chicago,” said the CHA’s Wendy Parks, director of communications and marketing and public information officer.

“CHA is also aiming to seek a developer to work with the agency to create a project that could also include commercial, institutional, and recreational components.” Parks said the CHA is evaluating the number of units that will be designated for public housing and affordable housing families.

“We were told we would be involved in the process,” said Williams. “They said ‘you’ll be back. It will be better.’ We were promised that. A lot of people are anxiously waiting to come back.”

Questioning the swap

“How can you take land that is supposed to be for housing and swap it for commercial development or an athletic field?” asked Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center. A part of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), the center has been working with former Ickes residents not only to build replacement housing, but to ensure their right to return to the community.

“We can build a new hotel [near McCormick Place] with TIF money and we have a completion date, but the Ickes homes were torn down over five years ago and we still don’t have a plan,” Wilson asserted. “If there is one, CHA hasn’t let the residents know about it. Sports and tourism shouldn’t trump housing.”

Wilson believes the athletic field is a good idea but noted, “Housing is a basic right. We don’t need a soccer field to survive. Where is the plan for the housing we need? In five years, those things could have been worked out. They should have been planned before the homes were torn down.”

“Maybe they think if they hold out long enough we’ll forget about it,” said Williams. “How can you forget about families and communities?”

“It’s not just the field,” said Wilson. “It’s the point of a promise to be returned. These were communities with support systems. All of that was demolished. CHA sold us on the idea. You have the right to return, but you can’t return if nothing is built. I can’t speak to the intentions of the CHA, but I can speak to their inaction.”

Williams said former residents cannot control what the CHA does with the land, but they are trying to make sure they get something of what they left. “At Ickes I felt safe and secure,” she noted. “I thrived. It was a neighborhood with friends, parents, children, and grandchildren. Now that the area is being economically developed and uplifted, do I not have the right to share in that?”

For now, former residents will continue to wait. Dowell said the City and the CHA would solicit developers this year to build out the rest of the site. “The athletic field, the nearby school [National Teachers Academy], the new 22nd Street Green Line station, and other area amenities will make this site in the 3rd Ward attractive.” Dowell said.

Ellis believes the CHA’s intentions are to meet their promises to past residents fully. “I haven’t seen any site plans or anything like that, but it isn’t hard to imagine a different configuration of buildings that could accommodate everyone and be an asset to the neighborhood,” Ellis said. “The Ickes site is a rare opportunity for workforce housing near transit. We’re happy that both athletic facilities and workforce housing will soon be developed in the neighborhood.”

Sullivan said they anticipate awarding a contract by May 13.

Substantial completion is expected by September 2014.