The old Brach’s plant is located at 401 N. Cicero, just north of Lake Street, in a community that has seen many of its Chicago schools closed and others placed on academic probation. The 30-plus-acre property has been vacant for three years.
LaShawn Ford is the owner of Ford Desired Real Estate and candidate for state representative of the 8th district. The democrat has an ambitious plan to use the Brach property for a new school.
In June of 2006, Ford convinced Chicago schools’ officials to join him in a walkthrough of his plan at the site. Though he had prior permission for the walkthrough with the Chicago schools’ officials, there was no one present to give them access through the 30-foot fence that surrounds the property. As with most politicians, Ford improvised by driving through a hole in the fencing to gain access.
Chicago schools’ officials found that the property was close to Chicago’s Green Line, and it had some great parking space. Ford emphasized that a school located there could cater to many students from many areas of the city — Chicago schools’ buses could transport students in from different districts. The Chicago schools’ officials saw that the location and amount of property could attract a multitude of students with diverse economical, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Ford further pointed out that the Chicago schools had recently invested $30 million into Austin High School for Renaissance 2010 upgrades. He noted that had they foregone those renovations, they could had invested in a new school at the Brach location that would provide much more to the Chicago schools’ students over the long term.
The biggest problem facing Ford’s “Ambitious plans” for the Chicago schools is zoning. The old Brach plant sits in the city’s Protected Manufacturing District. That means that sites within the district can be used only for industrial development. When presented with other plans in the past, the city has been reluctant to rezone the area for commercial or residential development.
The second problem is “Financing” – The property currently is listed at the Paine/Wetzel INCOR International web site for $10 million. The Chicago schools’ officials have suggested that the best scenario would be for a donor to purchase the Brach property and give it to the Chicago schools for further development. Even this, of course, is contingent on whether or not the Chicago schools have enough surplus funds to build the school. The estimated cost of building is from $20 to $40 million. Of course, the perfect solution would be for donors to cover the cost of building, as well.
As it currently stands, Ford’s proposal is being considered by the Chicago schools. The Chicago schools’ officials stated that further study on the project would be needed before any decisions could be made.