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Lycee Francais Presents Plans; Requests TIF Money For Private School

By Mike Fourcher and Sarah Tilotta | Wednesday, August 3, 2011

(l to r) Lycee Francais head of school Alain Weber and school Facilities Committee chair Doug Lyons take questions from residents about the school's plans for the old Ravenwswood Hospital site. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

About 60 area residents attended an outdoor public meeting Tuesday night with sweltering 94-degree heat to hear school leaders from Lycee Francais de Chicago present their development plans for the old Ravenswood Hospital site, 4544 N. Winchester Ave. The presentation kicked off with an announcement from Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) that the private school is seeking to utilize Tax Increment Financing money.

The new school facility would include a five-story, 118,000 square-foot school building on Wilson Ave. for up to 800 students, a new athletic field on the space currently occupied by a open parking lot and a new private street cut from Sunnyside to Wilson Ave. for student drop-offs. The old Ravenswood Hospital Adler Pavilion building would be demolished but the school has no plans to request street direction changes. Demolition could begin as soon as spring 2013 with the school opening in fall 2015.

[Read previous coverage of Lycee Francais' announced plans, including architectural drawings.]

Lycee Francais currently has an option for purchase on the tallest Ravenswood Hospital building on Wilson Ave., as well as the open parking lot space and 120 parking spaces in the parking deck on Sunnyside and Damen Aves., but does not have plans to purchase the parking deck, the medical office building on Damen and Wilson Aves. or the apartment building on Sunnyside Ave., but according to Head of School Alain Weber, the school is considering purchase of the newest hospital building on the east side of the campus.

According to Lycee Francais’ Facilities Committee chair, Doug Lyons, the entire project will cost, “about $35 million, all in, including land acquisition, demolition, construction.” Lyons also announced an estimated $2-3 million demolition and remediation cost for the hospital building. Remediation would include removal of extensive asbestos insulation and possibly low-level radioactive material from a building first constructed in 1906.

About 60 area residents attended the outdoor meeting which competed with 94-degree heat, loud passing car radios and at least one lightning flash. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

Those preliminary cost estimates do not match similar hospital demolition projects or some other urban school construction budgets, however. A recent city commissioned study of the old Edgewater Hospital site, which is similar in size to Ravenswood Hospital, estimated remediation costs at $7.5 million. Construction costs for the public, state-of-the-art Ogden International Elementary School in the Gold Coast, which is about the same size as the planned Lycee Francais facility, is about $44 million.

To defray the expected cost of demolition and remediation, the school plans to seek funds from the Ravenswood Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district, which had a balance of $2.1 million at the close of 2009.

During the question and answer period after the school’s presentation, area residents expressed concern about use of TIF money, largely property taxes diverted from public school coffers, for a private school project which will be property tax-exempt and not directly increase property tax income after completion.

“That’s something that really bothers me. My kids go to public schools in the area and I can’t say that it’s very good form to take money away from our public schools and put them into a private tuition-based school,” said Steve Kibler, a near-by resident from Wolcott St.

“I like the French school idea. The TIF issue disturbs me..You’re supposed to give money to private enterprise, you give a little so you get more. But you’re not going to get more, they’re not going to be paying property taxes,” said resident Jack Lydon from Wilson Ave.

Group discussion during the question and answer period then turned to whether or not any other projects are likely to use the hospital building, and Ald. Pawar asked rhetorically, “Would anything else happen here unless it were incentivized?”

Following the meeting, Ald. Pawar told a small group of residents that, “I personally think that these TIF dollars should not be used this way.”

Asked to clarify his comments, Pawar told Center Square Journal, “We want the community to be able to weigh in. From my own policy perspective, it will be a big chunk of money that would go to public schools. If we were to grant the TIF we’d want to exclude out the public school increment.”

Residents also expressed concern about increased traffic at the Damen and Wilson intersection, which according to the school’s traffic consultant KLOA, would increase by 200 cars each morning between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

Resident Jeff Fearon had concerns about additional traffic created by the school. Credit: Sarah Tilotta.

“Right now I’m making a left hand turn on Wilson onto Damen, 150 feet [from the intersection] you’ve got cars coming out. The Wilson Ave. bus makes it’s turn right here,” said resident Jeff Fearon referring to the school’s planned private street between Sunnyside and Wilson Aves.

In response, Luay Alboona, traffic consultant from KLOA, said, “We anticipate the need of a traffic aide to allow these vehicles [from the drop off street] and move onto Wilson, either turning left or right.” It was unclear whether the school or the city would provide the needed traffic aide.

Wrapping up the meeting, one resident asked, “Is this something that really this community can say yea or nay to, that it really matters?”

Addressing his first major community meeting, Ald. Pawar tried to reassure the assembled crowd, “We have a zoning advisory committee made up of community members and that process is open…We’re making it as transparent as we possibly can. We’ll let you know what we’re doing.

“At the end of the day, if I make a decision, not everyone is going to like it. You elected me to do a job, and I’m going to do that job with your best interests in mind.”

The school’s proposed plans are expected to go before the Chicago Plan Commission in mid-September. Pending the Plan Commission’s approval, it will go before the City Council Zoning Committee for approval, which will consider Ald. Pawar’s recommendation, and then for a vote before the full City Council.

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  • http://twitter.com/TheeErin E!

    Lycee Francais wants our property tax diverted from the public
    school till to fund their private school that will be property tax-exempt?  There’s only one correct answer. No. #Pawar 

  • Brian Yates

    Representatives from  Lycee Francais stated that the Board is only interested in using TIF funds for the demolition and remediation portion of the project which they estimated as costing between $2-3 million. The fact that this figure falls well below the actual cost of the Ogden project is a bit worrisome.

  • Anonymous

     I welcome Lycee Francais to our East Ravenswood community. I attended the meeting and took part in the questioning of the school. staff. But I am causus of an operation like the school coming to the hospital campus. Yes they will take a large portion of the campus for their proposal, but there is quite a bit that they will not control. The TIF district created in 2002 or 04 was  passed with a certain type of development in mind, but not an education campus as its exclusive tenant.
     
    I had to wonder why the present owners were not at the meeting or if they were they did not speak to the attendees. I have many concerns including traffic and building setback and foot print location. I also am concerned that the present owners are not looking forward with the overall use of the property. Will light industrial be propsed next to the school or will we find that they both can not be in the same zoning foot print. Or will the school being on the campus cause the rest of it to sit empty, or looking for the right tenant for many decades. Remember, that while our former alderman did get a pretty good deal from the Neuro group that ran the south buiding, the rest of the site sat unused,and run down for the 6 or 7 years that the Neuro pratice was there. Let us make sure that there is an over all plan in place before we move forward and let’s make sure that Lycee Francais does not hog all the food at the table, as we expect more guest to our neighborhood

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S5HYWZDWUZPYDJ53QF3F7EKL7I Leah Pouw

    The current site is an eye sore – it would be nice to have the facility to put to good use. It doesn’t sound like thee are any other takers for the property, which has been vacant for years. Using TIF money makes sense to me because it improves the community. A good friend lived next door to the shuttered hospital and it is like a scary movie. It feels risky to talk past at night. A quality school would also be an excellent addition to the community. Plus, having a French school in the neighborhood is sure to raise property values.

    • Anonymous

      Using TIF money to fund a private school is crazy.  That TIF money was diverted from the public schools to develop more tax revenue, which a private school would provide none!   What is next, asking public school families to pay part of the tuition for private school kids…giving a private school TIF funds is essentially the same thing.  

  • Anonymous

    I complement Alderman Pawar for explaining the TIF request
    at the beginning of the meeting and not hiding this fact.   I think the school will be a great addition
    to the neighborhood.  This project is
    going to happen; although, I personally have a problem with any private school
    requesting TIF money.  Maybe the
    community will decide that the benefits will far out way the costs of the TIF
    request.  We should make sure that
    Alderman Pawar’s committee reviews all of the facts and especially figures and
    makes an informed decision.  Here are a
    few things that must be studied and addressed: 
    1) Are there any local precedents for a private school requesting TIF
    funds (Roger’s Park Montessori, British School, others?)  2)  The
    site is currently owned by a for-profit LLC, I assume that the sale of the
    property is contingent on the approval of the zoning change and the property
    will no longer be owned by the LLC. 
    3)  I assume the LLC will retain
    ownership of the remaining parcels.  4)  As an audience member brought up at the
    meeting, once the school is rezoned, the land will be off the tax rolls.  What is the potential loss if the land
    remains vacant but is still taxed?  If the
    land does remain vacant, say ten years, but then is redeveloped, what would the
    tax revenue be compared to the current proposed rezoning and subsequent tax-free
    status?  What is the overall gain or loss
    over 5-20 years? Changing the zoning and making the land tax-free is a generous
    gift by the tax payers.   Also giving TIF money is a bit excessive.  5) 
    Apparently the buildings are full of hazardous materials that will make
    demolition very expensive.  As an
    audience member mentioned shouldn’t the original owners be responsible.  If not, the current owners should have done
    their homework when buying the property. 
    The property may have a reduced value or even negative value because of
    this but the TIF funds should not be used to bailout the current owners.  Either the Lycee can raise addition funds or
    the current owner can lower the price. The current owners, I assume, will retain
    ownership of the remaining parcels. 
    These should increase in value with the completion of the proposed
    project.  There is nothing wrong with
    this.  It appears that they have been
    trying to redevelop this site for some time. 
    We can give them one gift (rezoning and giving tax-free status for the
    school) but not two (TIF funds) 6) Many of the local public schools contain
    hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint.  As far as I know, these materials are not
    imminently hazardous to the kids, but I think tax dollars should be used to
    remove these materials before the funds are used to remove the hazardous
    materials for this project.  7)  Are there other ways for the city/community
    to assist the school?  If there was a
    request to increase the height or density of the site, this could be given
    easily without any tax funds and the school would gain monetarily.  Could the city help with tax free bonds like
    what was proposed by Cubs for Wrigley?  (Okay
    this did not work out for the Ricketts but there must be some creative
    financing methods) 8) the financial implications must be studied and presented
    to the community. 

  • Anonymous

    I complement Alderman Pawar for explaining the TIF request
    at the beginning of the meeting and not hiding this fact.   I think the school will be a great addition
    to the neighborhood.  This project is
    going to happen; although, I personally have a problem with any private school
    requesting TIF money.  Maybe the
    community will decide that the benefits will far out way the costs of the TIF
    request.  We should make sure that
    Alderman Pawar’s committee reviews all of the facts and especially figures and
    makes an informed decision.  Here are a
    few things that must be studied and addressed: 
    1) Are there any local precedents for a private school requesting TIF
    funds (Roger’s Park Montessori, British School, others?)  2)  The
    site is currently owned by a for-profit LLC, I assume that the sale of the
    property is contingent on the approval of the zoning change and the property
    will no longer be owned by the LLC. 
    3)  I assume the LLC will retain
    ownership of the remaining parcels.  4)  As an audience member brought up at the
    meeting, once the school is rezoned, the land will be off the tax rolls.  What is the potential loss if the land
    remains vacant but is still taxed?  If the
    land does remain vacant, say ten years, but then is redeveloped, what would the
    tax revenue be compared to the current proposed rezoning and subsequent tax-free
    status?  What is the overall gain or loss
    over 5-20 years? Changing the zoning and making the land tax-free is a generous
    gift by the tax payers.   Also giving TIF money is a bit excessive.  5) 
    Apparently the buildings are full of hazardous materials that will make
    demolition very expensive.  As an
    audience member mentioned shouldn’t the original owners be responsible.  If not, the current owners should have done
    their homework when buying the property. 
    The property may have a reduced value or even negative value because of
    this but the TIF funds should not be used to bailout the current owners.  Either the Lycee can raise addition funds or
    the current owner can lower the price. The current owners, I assume, will retain
    ownership of the remaining parcels. 
    These should increase in value with the completion of the proposed
    project.  There is nothing wrong with
    this.  It appears that they have been
    trying to redevelop this site for some time. 
    We can give them one gift (rezoning and giving tax-free status for the
    school) but not two (TIF funds) 6) Many of the local public schools contain
    hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint.  As far as I know, these materials are not
    imminently hazardous to the kids, but I think tax dollars should be used to
    remove these materials before the funds are used to remove the hazardous
    materials for this project.  7)  Are there other ways for the city/community
    to assist the school?  If there was a
    request to increase the height or density of the site, this could be given
    easily without any tax funds and the school would gain monetarily.  Could the city help with tax free bonds like
    what was proposed by Cubs for Wrigley?  (Okay
    this did not work out for the Ricketts but there must be some creative
    financing methods) 8) the financial implications must be studied and presented
    to the community. 

    I look forward to the positive discussions.

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