On Wednesday of this week, developer Dan McCaffery, 25th ward alderman Danny Solís, and a handful of staff and students of the British School of Chicago participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the upcoming South Loop campus of the school. Controversy seems to have followed this development from the onset, and a sense of relief seemed to hang over the event, especially among McCaffery and Solís, who worked hardest to push this project through the planning and approval process. McCaffery, who fought to bring the school to the land purchased along with the adjacent Roosevelt Collection, jokingly said he expected to be assaulted with rotten tomatoes when he took the podium, reflecting some negative sentiments held toward him by parts of the South Loop community still sore that they haven't received the public park that was promised to be developed on the land when it was first sold to the original Roosevelt Collection owners.
In order to make the project happen, McCaffery and architect Antunovich Associates designed a green roof for the school that will serve as a public park accessible either via a walkway connected to the Roosevelt Collection retail and residential center or by a three-story staircase leading to 9th Street on the north end. A full size soccer field is also included, which will belong to the school but is supposed to be made available to the public. Those concessions, after some back-and-forth about the design of the stairway to the roof and public access to the soccer field, were enough for the city to approve the development despite lingering concern from neighbors who, all things considered, would rather just have the park.
"It's a shame the developer didn't honor its commitment to build a real neighborhood park," Dennis McClendon of South Loop Neighbors tells us, calling the rooftop park a shortsighted compromise. "Meanwhile, at a location like State & Cermak, the British School could have had enough room for athletic fields and future growth."
Despite neighborhood group opposition, the project was approved and construction is now well underway. The British School of Chicago expects the new South Loop campus to be open for the September 2015 semester.
The British School of Chicago, which began in 2001 with 14 students, currently has nearly 850 students enrolled and is outgrowing its Lincoln Park location. School headmaster Michael Horton said that they had looked at over 40 potential sites for their second campus, but the location so close to downtown and the recent growth of the neighborhood is what sold them on the Roosevelt Collection site -- no doubt along with a fair amount of haranguing from McCaffery himself.
"This is going to be one of the crown jewels of the South Loop," alderman Danny Solís said about the school. He expects the project will lead to even more development in the area which, considering the locations proximity to the forthcoming Wells-Wentworth connector, could be true.