North Side elementary schools squeezed for space

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • May 13, 2008 @ 10:30 AM
Students at Edgebrook Elementary School on the city's North Side used to have a science lab.

Now it's a classroom.The music room and a computer room have also been converted  to classroom space as the number of students has grown - from 260 a few years ago, to an expected 440 by next year.

David Klevatt, a parent member of the Edgebrook Local Schools Council, says there's nothing left to take except the library.

"Once we lose our library, we're literally out of space," Klevatt says. "What do you do without a library?"

At Sauganash Elementary, about 15 blocks away, the library is already gone. A PTA-funded computer lab lost its space to a sixth-grade homeroom.

There is no teachers' lounge. Hundreds of students attend classes in mobile units, which they don't leave even for  lunch. More than 100 students are sharing lockers.

"We're looking for an addition," says principal Christine Munns.

Growth on the North Side, especially among the population of elementary school-aged children, has forced school officials to convert every available square foot.

Lunchrooms are non-existent at many schools. PTA and other parent groups are raising thousands of dollars for such things as computers, only to find there is no place to put them.

"Every time we try to do something, we lose the space because of overcrowding," says Tammy Toliopoulos, president of the PTA at Sauganash.

In addition to Sauganash, at 6040 N. Kilpatrick, and Edgebrook, at 6525 N. Hiawatha, Wildwood World Magnet School at 6950 N. Hiawatha has also seen enrollment climb.

Combined, the three schools have over 1,100 students and that number is expected to rise. At Sauganash, a fact sheet created by a parents' group says 460 students are being taught in a building designed for 345.  CPS lists the school's total capacity at  585; CPS considers schools with enrollment above 80 percent of capacity to be overcrowded.

Palmer Elementary, at 5051 N. Kenneth, is home to 981 students. With an expected increase of 5 percent per year, Palmer will reach 1,000 students next fall. The school's capacity is 1,110, according to the school district.

"We need an addition," says Matt Robinson, vice chair of Palmer's local school council. "They deserve a proper education now."

Thursday, at one of six citywide capital-expenditure meetings scheduled throughout the month, school administrators, local council members and PTA representatives made the case for expansion to CPS chief purchasing officer Heather Obora.

While there is no fixed amount for capital spending next year, Obora says, $400 million was budgeted for the 2007-08 school year. While much of the money is spent on repairs and improvements to existing facilities, funds are also considered for expansions.

Parents crowded Bell Elementary on the North Side at Thursday's hearing, the only session scheduled for the North Side, where new schools and additions have not kept pace with a growing population of students.

But unlike the South Side or closer to the central city, Obora says, the North Side has room for school expansions.

"There's an advantage up there," Obora says, "because there's a place where I can put something."

That doesn't mean it will happen. Representatives of Sauganash Elementary have raised the issue at each of the past two board meetings, but have yet to convince the board.

"There are a number of places that are truly beyond what Sauganash is," says board president Rufus Williams.

"We have to look at the overall system to see where the greatest needs are," says Arne Duncan, CPS chief.

One possibility suggested by Klevatt, is the creation of a regional junior high school to relieve overcrowded K-8 elementary schools.

"You can look at the numbers," Klevatt told board members. "It's not going to get any better."

Upcoming CPS capital-improvement hearings

  • Wednesday: Andrew Jackson Language Academy, 1340 W. Harrison St.
  • Thursday: Pershing West Middle, 3200 S. Calumet
  • May 21: Lindblom Math/Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott St.
  • May 22: Morgan Park High School, 1744 W. Pryor Ave.

All hearings begin at 5:30 p.m. Registration for all hearings, 4-5 p.m.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.