Get buy-in before moving ahead with $120 million new school for Near South Side

A vacant lot at West 24th Street and South State Street in the South Loop, part of the former Harold L. Ickes Homes, is the proposed site for a new CPS high school.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools enrollment has plummeted by tens of thousands of students in recent years. A decade ago, over 400,000 children attended CPS. In the year just ended, enrollment was just 330,411.

With those troubling numbers in mind — not to mention the district’s own warnings about its dismal financial outlook — there must be extra scrutiny on big-ticket spending like the proposal for a $120 million new high school in the South Loop.

We’re from Missouri on this one: Show us, and the larger school community.

Maybe a new high school, even at that steep price, is a good option to serve the Near South Side — including Chinatown, the South Loop and Bridgeport — and keep families invested in the city’s public schools.

Or, maybe the money — CPS would pay $70 million, with the state providing $50 million — is better spent elsewhere, given this city’s long track record of short-changing lower-income students of color, especially Black students.



It’s vital to take more time to fully air the pros and cons, listen to families and other community stakeholders and make sure critical questions and concerns are addressed.

The Sun-Times’ Nader Issa and Lauren FitzPatrick and WBEZ’s Sarah Karp reported on those questions in a story published early Wednesday.

The proposal was slated for a vote by the School Board on Wednesday, but Schools CEO Pedro Martinez wisely — we can’t help but think of previous administrations, under former mayors, that would have just shrugged and forged ahead — pulled the plan from the agenda at the last minute. Even some supporters agreed with the need to build consensus and listen to the concerns of the broader school community.

Chinatown residents have pushed for a new high school for years, and the student population on the Near South Side has grown. But other high schools on the South Side are already under capacity, low-income housing promised for the proposed site at 24th and State streets was never built, and residents have complained about a lack of community engagement over the plan.

It’s legitimate to ask the hard question: Does the city need this school?

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