At a community forum held Monday night, representatives from Lycee Francais de Chicago announced that Ravenswood Hospital, 4550 N. Winchester, the future site of the school’s new campus, will meet the wrecking ball much sooner than initially projected. “We will be able to pursue demolition of the old hospital within the next 90 days,” said Doug Lyons, a member of Lycee’s board of trustees and chairman of the school’s facilities committee. “It will do wonders for the neighborhood.”
For residents, who packed the meeting space at All Saints Episcopal Church to capacity, the accelerated time frame came as welcome news; the hospital has long been a boarded-up eyesore and magnet for graffiti and crime. The tear down is expected to take six months to complete, due to environmental concerns including asbestos and lead. “It has to be done very carefully,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
Alain Weber, president of Lycee Francais de Chicago, stated that the demolition would have no impact on residential parking, and contractors have been instructed to contain dust. Construction vehicles will use a vacant parking lot – part of the Lycee parcel that will eventually be converted into a soccer field – as their staging area, as opposed to side streets. “We don’t want to come in and upset you,” he said.
Following demolition, the site will be secured with fencing, according to Lyons. Construction of the new Lycee campus will begin in spring 2014, and occupancy is scheduled for the 2015 school year. In the interim, Ald. Pawar’s office plans to put together a community advisory committee “to get ahead of any issues” related to the demolition or construction, which largely center on parking, traffic and safety. “We are not going to be able to solve all of the problems but we are going to do the best we can,” Weber vowed.
He also provided an update on financing for the $33 million project, including a $10 million guaranteed loan from the French government. Fundraising, currently in the “silent phase” (Lycee is approaching families and corporations for donations), is “going well,” Weber noted.
Lycee Francais de Chicago is part of an international network of nearly 500 French schools. The Chicago outpost was founded in 1995 and has grown from 100 students to 630, age three through grade 12, precipitating the need for more space. The new campus can accommodate additional expansion to as many as 750 students.
“We’re fortunate this site was chosen by Lycee,” said Pawar, pointing to the abandoned Edgewater Hospital as a similarly challenged site that remains a neighborhood blight. His office has already received calls from realtors, as Lycee families test the housing market near the school. “Obviously there’s going to be some temporary pain,” he said, “but it’s a good sign that projects like these are getting developed. It’s a good sign for the city and the ward.”