The South Loop’s British (School) Invasion

The Roosevelt Collection from the north. The proposed British School of Chicago would be located in the lower left-hand side.

For a long time, the people of the South Loop have waited for the Roosevelt Collection (150 West Roosevelt Road) to come into its own.  Years went by and its retail space remained largely empty, with only the movie theater to draw people to its windswept cul-de-sac.

Then after an ownership change, and a renovation to make it more festive and pedestrian-friendly, it was announced that a raft of new stores and restaurants inked deals to move in.  What could be a neighborhood anchor is finally gaining some weight.

The next big thing to come to the Roosevelt Collection will arrive from the U.K.  The British School of Chicago wants to build a new school at the back of the mixed-use complex.  The school, mostly for expats, already has a campus in Goose Island, but has simply outgrown the space.  It wants a new custom-built building, and thinks the South Loop is the place to be.

A closer look at the general area where it is believed the proposed British School of Chicago South Loop building would be located.

The new school would go immediately north of the existing Roosevelt Collection structure, on two acres of ground between Metra’s Rock Island District tracks and South Wells Street.  The northern boundary would be where West Ninth Street once was, and would be again.

That’s because the school envisions recreating both West Ninth and West 10th Streets to facilitate loading and unloading of its planned 600 students from grades seven through 12.  They’d be dropped off on Ninth, and picked up on Tenth/Taylor, to keep as much of the traffic flow as possible off of South Wells Street.

The school’s 2.5 stories would be equipped with 33 classrooms, plus a gymnasium, cafeteria, library, and all the other things that usually come with a school.  The building, itself, is designed to be about 80,000 square feet.

2006 letter detailing the exact responsibility the developer of the Roosevelt Collection has to building a public park.

The paperwork is just starting to make its way through the bureaucracy, and is expected to have a more complicated tour of City Hall than most buildings.  This is because of the redistricting of Chicago’s wards in 2012.  It appears that the eastern portion of the building might be in William Burns’ Fourth Ward, while the western portion would be in Danny Solis’ 25th Ward.

The ward boundary doesn’t run down something easy like a street — it has a couple of weird angles in that area, so the school and the developers, McCaffery Roosevelt, have to wait while the city tries to figure out who’s turf is in play. That is important, of course, because of the public meetings.  While CDOT and the Chicago Fire Department and other city agencies have been briefed on the school, the public has not.

The people behind the plan expect to have multiple meetings to give the neighbors a chance to weigh in, but until the ward problem is straightened out, they’re moving cautiously.

For the fiscally curious, the developers plan to build the entire project with private funds.  Which makes sense, since it’s a private school.  Though the school does offer a limited number of scholarships to the public.

City of Chicago diagram showing the location of the Roosevelt Collection park

City of Chicago diagram showing the location of the Roosevelt Collection park

We’ve already heard from some of the neighbors who are angry before they’ve even seen the plan.  They believe the school will take the place of a public park they were promised.

Looking at the original documents for the Roosevelt Collection from 2006, the neighbors are right — they were promised a park.  In fact, the developer is obligated to spend $2 million building the park.  However, in all of the diagrams filed with the city, the park is on the west side of the project, not on the east side.  So there may be room for both.

City of Chicago diagram showing the location of the Roosevelt Collection park

City of Chicago diagram showing the location of the Roosevelt Collection park

For what it’s worth, the building’s design appears to give the public some green space.  The new school will be attached to the Roosevelt Collection structure so that a person can walk directly from the shops onto the roof of the school, which is designed to be a large garden.

Still, it remains to be seen how the school and the promised park will relate to each other.  It also remains to be seen if the reconstruction of Ninth Street will include a tunnel underneath the Metra tracks, linking it to South Clark Street.  Construction of that underpass was approved by the city in 2003, but hasn’t been achieved.  Perhaps the school is the impetus needed to begin work on that project as well.

 

9th Street Metra Underpass document

9th Street Metra Underpass document

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

Share This Post On

9 Comments

  1. I have a bunch of questions about this physical area that come from surfing the past 13 years of satellite imagery on Google Earth. First, since at least 1999, there was some construction staging at the corner of Wells and Taylor. The 9/26/00 photo makes it look like Case Foundations was storing their cranes and other equipment there. Does anyone remember this? It was before I lived in the South Loop, and also before any real boom in construction. Second, then on 3/10/01, there’s site prep and the next year a notable construction presence on south Wells just north of the Roosevelt viaduct. Those photos clearly show green rebar being constructed, but again, there’s no construction remotely close. None of the high rises on Wells, Clark, State or elsewhere, save for 42 East 8th and 1111 South Wabash. What is that rebar for? Case Foundations again? On 9/5/03, all that rebar is gone, and there’s a ton of what look like white bags, a lot like what this blog spotted at 435 North Park Drive with their radioactive soil. I know the site of Roosevelt Collection used to be railroads, so is this contaminants from that? Also, it looks like sheet pilings have shown up for the Target.

    On 7/22/04, Case has now moved down Wells to the site immediately north of Roosevelt and vacated the Wells/Taylor lot. The Target is almost done, with just it’s parking decks to be finished. 4/29/05, Target is open, but in the lot they used for staging in between what would be come Amil, there’s now a curved road that wasn’t there before or during construction, and that leads from Clark without access to the Target drive, again, with no access. Why was this built/paved?

    Nothing really changes until 2007 when Roosevelt Collection construction starts…but, there is one tidbit here. I walked through the future Roosevelt Collection lot south, then under Roosevelt, and all the way to the Saint Charles Airloop bridge in the fall of 2006, and I came across what looked like the start to a piling next to Wells and immediately north of Roosevelt. It was a large, about 4-5′ in diameter hole, with a metal tube in and sticking out of it, half-ass covered with a square steel plate. I guessed at the time it was a pilot hole of sorts to see what a future foundation would be like, and unfortunately can’t find any pictures of that. Was that done by Case when their stuff was there, did Roosevelt Collection eventually use that same footing, neither? It looks like you can just make it out in the 11/5/07 picture. There’s a white crane sitting northwest of it, and it has that same square steel plate on it with it’s protrusion above ground causing a shadow.

    When Amil was finished in 2008, they built 9th street straight towards the tracks, with a major downhill slope. When the Wells street reconstruction/Financial Place realignment was done in 2009, it too was built straight towards the tracks, with a similar downhill slope, exactly on line with 9th on the other side. It was clear then that some sort of underpass was in the works, but the financing and frankly need was puzzling me.

    Will the Taylor Street ever cross the Chicago River again? Maybe, but it’s a lot of money when you already have Roosevelt with two traffic lanes and a bus lane to the immediate south, and Harrison Street which just got widened west of the river to a 6 lane intersection with Wells. Does or will that ever need to support such loads? I don’t know, but Taylor Street couldn’t even be extended under Metra as is. R.C. and Amil are perfectly offset where there’s NO clearance for a sidewalk, much less lanes to weave between them.

    I want to see some real plans for this school, but what I keep hearing about them taking over the R.C. parkland, forget it.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      You bring up a bunch of instances where empty lots were used for construction storage. I’m not sure what the significance of these observations is, or what your question is.

      Just because you see a bunch of rebar, doesn’t mean it was for that location. It’s not uncommon, especially with caisson work, for rebar to be welded into large forms in one location where there’s lots of space and then moved to a construction project nearby. We saw this happen a lot in the early days of Lakeshore East, for example.

      Whether a particular hole in the ground was used as part of a foundation years later is the kind of trivia that can only be answered with engineering schematics, and is beyond the scope of this neighborhood blog. Also, there are lots and lots of reasons to drill holes in Chicago.

      You are correct — both of the Ninth Street stubs slope downward toward the Metra tracks in order to accommodate a planned underpass. This is outlined in the document posted above. The idea is to get the streets to slope down enough that the tracks only have to be raised one foot.

      As for whether a Ninth Street underpass is needed, that’s up to the city and people who live there. I’ve heard plenty of complaints at neighborhood meetings from people who think many of their woes could be solved by completing this project. I don’t drive in the area, so I can’t say if they’re right.

      A Taylor Street bridge may never be reconstructed, but I’ve seen plenty of schematics from the city of the area with “Planned Taylor Street Bridge” marked on them. That doesn’t mean it’s happening, it’s just the “planning” portion of “urban planning.” If you plan for these things, then they’re easier to implement.

      I don’t see why 10th/Taylor couldn’t go under the tracks. It would be a tight fit, but we have plenty of underpasses in Chicago narrower than that.

      Perhaps the fallacy in the concept of a Taylor Street Bridge is assuming it’s a a vehicular bridge and not a pedestrian bridge. If the South Loop keeps filling in the way it is, you could easily end up with enough residents to make it an idea worth thinking about. Especially since most of the people end up on the east side of the river and most of the shopping is on the west side. Sure, there’s the Roosevelt Road Viaduct, but that’s not an easy thing to walk across, especially if you’ve been shopping. I know, I’ve done it dozens of times.

      Post a Reply
  2. Oh also, looking at your photo from Roosevelt Collection, I see that the lots at Clark and Polk are fenced off, does that mean that construction will begin on the low rises there? Have any updated plans been circulated? What about plans for all the brick pavers? The developer said they got a lot of comments about the brick “alley” and said they’d do something with them, but what?

    Thanks.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      I was in touch with the developer of the project just last week and hope to have something to post about this soon.

      Post a Reply
  3. Cool news about the upcoming story, I’ll make sure to look for it. As for my long post, a lot of it was just rhetorical, even though I did phrase them as questions. The idea of Taylor being a pedestrian bridge is interesting, especially with Southgate Market right there, and the future retail development across the street. However, if you look at the end on Taylor that ends in Southgate, the structure has clearly been built for at least 4 traffic lanes. Isn’t the proposed multi-billion dollar development/developer for the Post Office, and plots east and west of there also proposing a pedestrian bridge across the river somewhere? I don’t see that plan going anywhere, unfortunately.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      You’re right, the portion of Taylor Street where it ends at the Amtrak yard is four lanes, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. It’s only used as a driveway for that retail complex right now, so making it two lanes and a grassy walking/bike path wouldn’t be a problem.

      I think the only reason it was built to those specifications is because the former Taylor Street Bridge was that size. I don’t think it projects any future intent of the city or the developer.

      Post a Reply
    • Editor

      I did a little more digging, and you’re right — there appears to be more to this Taylor Street flyover than there seems.

      I dig up the original diagrams of the project, but because posting pictures is a little difficult in this comments section, I’ve posted my findings over on the form here: http://forum.chicagoarchitecture.info/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=163

      Post a Reply
  4. I am just wondering why they can’t do a park on that empty lot in front of Wells street Tower and Vetro (Wells Street and Harrison). Then British School will not be a problem for the community

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.