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.
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.
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.
“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.