City Council OK's move of Math and Science school to Clark Street site

The City Council's approval of a zoning change on a portion of Clark Street in Rogers Park is expediting the relocation of the Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy to the site.

Alderman Joe Moore (D-49) requested a zoning change for the old Clark Mall site at 7212 N. Clark St., clearing the way for reviews of the building plans by city departments to permit the move and subsequent construction.

The City Council approved the plan during a meeting yesterday. Clark Mall's former C2-2 designation is a commercial classification. Under the new residential classification, CMSA can begin preparation for its move immediately, officials say.

The goal is to be in the new location by the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

CMSA is currently housed in the St. Jerome School building at Lunt and Paulina, but school officials say it has outgrown the space. They plan to purchase the property on Clark Street and move less than three blocks away to the Clark Mall site, which has been vacant for years.

The projected cost of the entire project is more than $10 million, most of which will be financed by loans.

"The new zoning change is important and critical," says CMSA Principal Ali Yilmaz.  "The community is in support of us moving to a new facility."

A charter school within the Chicago Public Schools system, CMSA currently enrolls 484 students in grades six through 12. Yilmaz says the school would like to expand its size and accept more students. A move to Clark Street would allow CMSA to serve a maximum of 590 students, he says, because the space is larger.

Ricardo Oviedo, a junior at CMSA, agrees saying the school's current space "is alright but we could use something bigger."

The St. Jerome property is approximately 40,000 square feet; the square footage of the Clark Mall site is about 54,000. CMSA already had to convert its teacher lounge into a classroom to accommodate the increasing number of students, Yilmaz says.

Yilmaz also says the new property would allow for school projects that CMSA currently cannot undertake in the St. Jerome building due to its structure and electrical limitations.

"It keeps in our neighborhood an excellent school," Moore says of the zoning change. The relocation of CMSA also "fixes up what has been a community eyesore for years."

Moore announced his support for the zoning change on Monday. Last November, he sponsored a community meeting to discuss the proposal, which was attended by more than 100 people.

Neighbors and parents at the meeting voiced concerns about safety and traffic on the busy Clark Street.

CMSA officials said they would do whatever is necessary to create a safe environment for students, such as hiring additional crossing guards.

Yilmaz doubts traffic will be a problem since 80 percent of the student body is already from the neighborhood.  Whatever little traffic occurs at CMSA's current location will the same traffic on Clark Street, he says.

Residents also questioned students' use of Touhy Park, which is located directly across the street.  CMSA already utilizes the public park, which many community members view as a positive thing, Moore says.

"By virtue of [CMSA] being there, it makes the park safer," Moore says, adding there will likely be more school activities and a student presence at Touhy Park during the day.

Sophomore CMSA student Kyle Thomas says the relocation is a "very interesting idea," one that could help spruce up the area.  He says having a fire station nearby and more police on patrol to monitor student safety could contribute to "moving forwarding and making the neighborhood better."

While CMSA has not officially announced plans for relocation, Yilmaz says everyone knows and expects it to happen before the next school year.  "There is a hope and excitement to move," he says.

"This year our school motto is 'Nothing is impossible.' Everyone is excited," Yilmaz says.  "Even with setbacks, we will make [the move] possible."