Details of the British School’s South Loop Expansion

Plans for a new campus of the British School of Chicago were shown to the public this weekend, and may have gone a long way towards assuaging neighborhood fears.

The thoroughly greenwashed building was well received by a group of South Loop residents who saw the drawings and a presentation by architect Joseph Antunovich of Antunovich Associates at the District One police station. It will be built in the “Phase Three” section of the Roosevelt Collection (150 West Roosevelt Road), which is immediately north of the existing building.

Phase Two is a currently unbuilt 400-unit residential tower that would go up along Wells Street, where Taylor Street once was, and might soon be again. The city has already approved its construction.

What hasn’t been approved yet, is the British School’s South Loop campus, which would bring hundreds of students in the seventh through 12th grades down from the private school’s current location in Lincoln Park.

The school has been working with new Roosevelt Collection owner, McCaffery Interests, for a year on this project. It envisions a two-story school bordered on the south by the mall, on the east by the Metra tracks, on the north by West Ninth Street, and on the west by an imaginary line extending south from South Financial Place.

As we noted in our story early this month, the school would have a green roof that serves as a public park. People would be able to walk seamlessly from the Roosevelt Collection mall onto the roof of the school. A grand staircase of some sort would connect the rooftop park with the ground level, where another large greenspace would be available.

That greenspace is likely to be a 54,000 square foot playing field, programmed by the school, but available to the public. Combined with the 42,000 square foot roof park, it more than exceeds the 92,000 square feet of public park space the Roosevelt Collection is required by the city to build.

Neighbors are worried that the British School might not share the field, which is supposed to be a public park, with the public. One expressed concerns that the school might try to put up a fence around it.

One of America’s dwindling number of Monday through Friday, nine-to-five workers asked for a commitment that the lower park would be available for open use at nights and on weekends. Still others fretted about their fidos.

McCaffery originally planned the lower space to have an artificial surface. In the olden days we could call this Astroturf, a material largely incompatible with good times and puppy poop. But apparently that is old fashioned thinking, and the architect countered with the fact that there is a new version of artificial grass that works well with dog droppings.

But the skeptics remained skeptical, and it appears public pressure may result in real grass after all. Or at least a corner of the field being made of real grass to suit the neighborhood Snoopys. A final decision is a long way off.

There will also be a third park on the north side of Ninth Street. At 11,500 square feet, it’s much smaller than the other two, but serves as a buffer between the school and the two 350-unit residential towers planned for Phase Four.

The school is designed to be 80,000 square feet, including a basement, 500-seat auditorium, cafeteria, and library. Its footprint is dictated by physical constraints — The Roosevelt Collection to the south, the railroad to the east, a 90-inch sewer tunnel to the west, and Ninth Street to the north.

The developers plan to do their part to build the school to physically work with the future Ninth Street underpass. But when that might get built is anybody’s guess. It’s entirely a city project, and not something the mall owners have any involvement in.

In the morning, students will be dropped off at the main entrance on Ninth, and the cars will then circulate around the back of the building back to South Wells Street via West Taylor Street. In the afternoon, students will be picked up at the back of the building, on Taylor Street. This will leave plenty of room for the cars to wait on private property without causing traffic problems in the neighborhood.

The British School hopes to be open in time for the start of the school year in September, 2014.

(Sorry about the quality of the images in the gallery.  We hope to have a better set for you soon.)


Author: Editor

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

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  1. So, if the school is Phase III and for delivery by Sept, 2014 then we are to expect that Phase II should start soon?

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    • Editor

      That would be great, but I don’t think so. Most plans filed with the city are broken into “areas” or “sub areas” but for some reason the people who built the Roosevelt Collection went with “phase,” kind of implying a certain construction order. Whether that was the plan before the economy went in the toilet is hard to say.

      Now that the Roosevelt Collection is in different hands, and the economy is much different than it once was, I don’t think they plan to go in order. However, this would be a perfect time to start that tower, and plenty of other developers are rushing to get their Chicago projects done in time to capture what they hope will be a rebound in the economy. But in spite of the numbering system, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the school, and maybe even the two smaller towers north of Ninth Street, built before the tall one.

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  2. It’s important to note that the school is not proposed for a vacant lot. It’s proposed instead of a public park.

    The developer is required to build a two-acre park on this site, with a grand staircase down from the shopping center. Instead, he proposes to build a private school with some landscaping on the roof, which will be controlled by the shopping center and reached by a narrow stair on the back side of the building, and an artificial-turf practice field that will be controlled by the school.

    The South Loop is full of vacant property where the British School could build a building, leaving the park alone.

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    • Editor

      I don’t think it’s quite correct to state that the school is proposed “instead” of a public park. What is happening is you’re getting both the school and the park in the same space. All that’s been done is to put the park on the roof of the school so that it matches the grade of the mall.

      You are correct, the developer is required to build a park. One that is 92,000 square feet. The park on the roof plus the field is 96,000 square feet — more than what is required. You could also add onto that total the park north of Ninth Street, which brings the total up to 107,000 square feet.

      You are also correct that the developer is required to provide a staircase access from ground level to the mall. But you are assuming that the staircase shown in the drawing is the final design. It is not. The developer has received a lot of feedback about people not liking that design, and is considering moving it to the northwest corner of the school and making it much larger. The drawings have not yet been updated because the developer is still gathering feedback.

      As for the location of the stair being on the “back side” of the building, this is incorrect. Even in the current preliminary drawings, the stair is on the front of the building. If it was on the back, you’d exit into the Metra tracks.

      As noted in the article, the developer is considering not going with artificial turf.

      The rooftop park being “controlled” by the shopping center is of no importance. Even if the park was on the ground, and the school wasn’t built, the park would still be “controlled” by the shopping center, in that its care, maintenance, and security would be the responsibility of the Roosevelt Collection. Putting it on the roof makes no difference. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here.

      Programming of the field is a concern, and one that the developer is working on. He seemed genuinely surprised when people brought up the notion of the school bogarting all the good hours, and said he’d try to come up with a solution.

      You cannot keep the school from using the field. It is a public park, and the schoolchildren’s families are taxpaying residents of the city of Chicago. Lots of schools, public and private, use Chicago public parks for outdoor activities. FXW’s Saint Patrick’s campus, for example, uses Heritage Green Park almost daily in the nice weather. The day care center at Lakeshore East uses Lakeshore East Park on occasion. The “public” in “public park” doesn’t mean it’s just for nearby homeowners. It is for every person in the United States.

      We’ve seen enough falsehoods spread by opponents of the Wolf Point project. There’s no reason to invent lies about this project, as well.

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  3. How is some landscaping up on a roof better than an actual park? How is a vague promise to “look into” school practice times for the artificial turf better than actual grass and trees that are open for anyone to use from 6 am to 11 pm?

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    • Editor

      I’m not sure why you want to pretend that this isn’t a park. It has trees, grass, paths, benches, even a water feature. And it’s larger than several other Chicago parks.

      Is it because it’s on a roof? Well, welcome to Chicago! Maggie Daley Park and Cancer Survivor’s Garden — Both the roof of the same parking garage. Millennium Park — Roof of a train station. Portions of Grant Park — Roof of a parking garage. Portions of Lincoln Park — roof of a parking garage. There are probably many others.

      Please explain why this isn’t a park.

      Also, what is it that makes you claim that this park won’t be open normal park hours? The developer has already stated publicly that there will be deeded public access to the park. What more can he do? That’s the same thing he would do if the park was on the ground.

      If you have some kind of piece of paper or actual proof that the developer won’t keep his word, or abide by his written agreement with the city, then by all means let’s see it. Otherwise you’re just spreading FUD.

      ANY Chicago park can be used by a private group. It happens all the time. I’ve been denied access to my neighborhood park because of corporate parties (once for Allstate, once for Toyota). When there are marathons and fun-runs in Chicago, the parks are often taken over for those events. Other schools use public parks in Chicago almost every day that it’s not snowing or bitterly cold, why can’t this one? If you live in a place where a park isn’t used by groups, then you must live in the most boring neighborhood of Chicago. Or, more likely, not in the city at all.

      Regardless, those groups, including schools, have the right to use the parks. You can’t claim this isn’t a park because a school will sometimes use it. By that criteria, then Lincoln Park isn’t a park because the Latin School uses it. And Heritage Green Park isn’t a park because FXW uses it. And Grant Park isn’t a park because any number of hundreds of different schools use it.

      The developer’s public comments weren’t “vague” at all. If you have a copy of comments he made that were vague and supersede the concrete comments he has made, please let’s see them. Otherwise, stop making stuff up.

      You sound like someone who just wants to be against this project just to have something to be against. If you’re bored and angry, that’s your problem. This web site is about light, not heat.

      If you have facts or legitimate questions, that’s great. But if you just want to spread lies and rumors, I think the Tribune web site is still accepts comments from disaffected shut-ins.

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  4. The design is much better than I thought it would be and I do like the fact there will be a sports field open to the public outside of the time it is scheduled for school use. North Park University has a similar arrangement for the field in Albany Park, it is used all the time by the public and a great place for people to actively socialize.

    Also, it should be turf if they use grass it will be a muddy eyesore in no time and not a good space for its intended use. Besides if it is grass the irresponsible will use it as their dog’s restroom. I live right behind the Roosevelt Collection in an old loft and there is a serious issue with residents failing to clean up after their pets. I have never seen anything like it in Chicago and I have lived all over this city.

    Overall, I agree with most of what the editor has to say.

    But, let’s not be naive, there is nothing public about a park attached to a private commercial/residential space. It will be a green sitting area primarily intended for the residents and customers of the Roosevelt Collection with a few private mall security guards. A green space that is only “street level” to the Roosevelt Collection makes it even more insular from the neighbors on the actual street level below it.

    They get a green space and the residents north of the RC lose valuable street parking and get the increased congestion and traffic from the new school. It will essentially feel inaccessible to the non-RC residents and be more like the park on River City. A nice large staircase will not do much to reduce the physical separation or the insular feeling the separation creates. There will be an undeniable disconnect from the surrounding area. However, some of this can be fixed.

    There needs to be more integration and that is the key difference from the other parks mentioned by the editor. The parks mentioned, slope from one tier to the other with man made hills. Maggie Daley Park is a perfect example of this, and not only does it make more of a fluid connection, but it also adds much needed dimension and depth to the space. This can also be seen with the parking structure at 31st Street beach, the use of hills creates a seamless connection between the two spaces. This is seen above the off ramps at Congress and Wells, why not implement what is already being used throughout the city. It is being used for the very same reason, space is less sectioned of by man made obstacles this way. Boundaries are softened and space will feel less insular.

    With McCaffrey’s future phases planned to be at the lower level on Financial it would be beneficial for the developer to better connect the spaces, rather than build a box with grass on top of it and a staircase. Even if there were multiple tiers that worked their way down to the space below I think people would feel better about it. For an example of this look at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

    With all of that being said, the benefits should not be overlooked. If it adds value to the RC, brings residents, and fills retail space it is going to add value to the neighborhood. Even though this will not be a fully public space, we do not know what the accessibility will be like. And if you want to go the park at night that badly walk to the lake front.

    The proposed space is not necessarily an eyesore, but it does not look well planned either, or in touch with some of the newer trends with rooftop parks. In general, using rooftops for green space should be applauded and in some ways this is a good way to set the tone for future developments in the area. I understand some residents want what was promised, but this is Chicago and people should know things change. People should focus less on abolishing what is proposed and more on providing constructive criticism so their input can be applied.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. Interesting that you brought up the mud and dog poop issue. The developer stated that the reason he originally intended to use turf instead of grass was because of the mud issue. But then people brought up about how it would be unfriendly to have farmers’ markets and they wouldn’t be able to throw Frisbees to their dogs. It only occurs to me now that playing fetch with your dog in this space is actually not legal since it’s not a fenced-in designated dog park. But that’s another issue.

      I’ve heard a lot of people in the South Loop complaining about the dog poop lately. I don’t know if it’s a new issue (some selfish eggs moving in), or if I just haven’t heard it before, but it makes me wonder if anyone has ever gotten a ticket for not scooping their pup’s poop.

      As for the park attached to a private commercial/residential space, I’ll say there is precedent for this. The six acre park at Lakeshore East was a privately-built, cleaned, and patrolled park with a public easement (or whatever the legal term is). It has since been given to the Chicago Park District as a full city park. Both before and after, it was not unheard of to see people from outside of Lakeshore East using the park. Admittedly, it wasn’t all that common, but I think that was an issue of topography.

      You’re right — there will be more traffic. But I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. The area is already approved for an additional 1,100+ residences. I think it was pretty creative to have the picking-up parents stage around the back of the building. If you’ve ever been near the Latin School or Old Saint Pat’s, you’ve seen the disaster that is parents waiting for their kids in lanes of traffic. But the ultimate decision on whether this is a good or bad idea will come from CDOT.

      The parking issue in this area is not one I’m familiar with. Can you estimate how many parking spaces you think will be lost?

      I like your idea of a sloped approach. Maybe slope the entire roof park. It would make a far more dramatic-looking building, and provide a better link from one the ground to the Roosevelt Collection. The difference in elevation is 40 feet, so in the winter that would make one heck of a sledding hill.

      The problem is that then the building would lose half (or more) of its available space. It can’t be made wider because of the MWRD’s sewer tunnel, but maybe it could be made deeper, with a second basement level. It’s not ideal for a learning environment, but then again, light is not ideal for an auditorium or gymnasium anyway. And there’s no reason there couldn’t be creative light wells punctuating the sloping park.

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  5. I’ll be the first to admit that I was completely against this when news broke. Now, I’m more-or-less okay with it, if there were more concessions made. I like the comment about sloping the park, but as the editor pointed out, a slope would either take away from classroom space or probably make a full-size soccer field as depicted impossible. Maybe a compromise is terraces kinda like the staircase down to Lakeshore East in between the Blue Cross building and Aqua. That has multiple switchbacks, but also keeps the footprint down. That would allow the park and staircase to be intertwined and flow better together. The classrooms would lose windows, but again, classrooms don’t need windows.

    As for the grass vs. turf debate. I work right next to a dog park in the south loop, and for years it was grass. The grass turned into mud exactly as predicted and it seemed like every year or two was being completely resodded. The park is only like 50-100 sq/ft (I’m terrible at gauging square feet) but I’m sure that sod and the maintenance to take care of it was costly. This past spring they replaced it with turf, and obviously that needs nowhere near the kind of maintenance that grass needs. If we’re talking presidents here, 1. the Park District has been adding more and more turf fields to their parks, especially in Garfield Park and Lincoln Park 2. speaking of Lincoln Park, remember the hubbub over the school (I don’t remember which one) bing the turf field for the Park District, with the school getting priority? Has this been a problem? If not, then I don’t forsee scheduling here to be a problem.

    Parking in the area isn’t a problem. Maybe it will be if you want free street parking, but the lot immediately north of 9th street has a $2 special to park from 2pm til midnight, so not much of a problem there. Sure more and more parking is being gobbled up, but 1. that’s good and 2. it’s expected. Hopefully these new developments add public parking, and frankly if you live in this area of the Sloop, how much do you need a car anyways?

    Does all the ComEd SmartGrid work going on in this area have any affect, positively or negatively, on any of these projects? If/when the RC tower gets built, that will dramatically affect the school. WIll they be able to build the tower without closing down the private section of Taylor? I doubt it, meaning the exit for cars in the morning and the staging area for cars in the afternoon will be blocked. Imagine residents’ concerns about traffic then. Because this is a private school, do they pay taxes? If not, I don’t really see how this will improve the area. How many people are going to move here because of the school? Any mixing between the school and retail? Answers: few if any an no.

    All that said, as long as the proposed parkland will still be able to hold the community events we were promised when RC was proposed, and they are respectful neighbors, then go for it.

    By the way, a 90 inch main? DANG that’s big. WHere’s it feed and is that what the big vent that seems to always be steaming on the south side of Roosevelt is for?

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      I don’t have all of the answers to your questions, but I’ll take a stab at a few —

      I don’t think that the construction of the tower will affect exiting traffic from behind the school. There’s plenty of nearby space for material storage. Taylor would likely be two lanes when redone, so they could close one lane and not affect anyone other than whatever the expat equivalent of a soccer mom is.

      I don’t think the SmartGrid will have any impact on this whatsoever.

      I don’t know if the school pays taxes. My guess is not directly. I would think that the school would be a tenant of the Roosevelt Collection, like the stores, and the Roosevelt Collection would pay property tax. Think of it as a building with a school in it, not necessarily a “school building.” RC would factor taxes into the rent it charges the school. Yes, it’s being built to spec, but so are lots of commercial developments. Again, I don’t know this as a fact, just as an observation of how other private schools have been run in other cities.

      The developer expects the school will bring a number of families to the South Loop. I recently listened to Alderman Fioretti talk about how one of the things that is happening in Chicago is that children get to a certain age and their families move out to the suburbs. The idea here is to have a school in an area that is desirable for the families to live in, but also affordable. I think that’s one of the reasons the South Loop was chosen instead of a second location in Lincoln Park. And since these children are going to be by-and-large the children of expats, that means they’re a high-income demographic. One of the interesting things that happened to Aqua is that because of its proximity to a bunch of Loop consulates, its rentals are chock full of diplomats and their support staff. I could see those who have children moving down to the South Loop.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “mixing between the school and retail.”

      The 90-inch tunnel goes down federal and then it gets to Taylor, there is a 90-degree junction. I’m not sure if the water goes left or right or both, but the other tunnel runs under Taylor.

      I don’t think it’s part of the TARP project, because those tunnels are so deep that the foundation of a building this short shouldn’t get anywhere near it. It’s probably just an old outbound sewer collector line. But I’m not going to spend the cash to buy a Chicago sewer map to find out.

      You can always tell a TARP vent because it will have a sign or two nearby with a warning not to stand on it, and a message that if you see water coming out of it, please call this phone number, oh and run for your life.

      Post a Reply
  6. Is there more info available about Phase 4 of the development? Looks like the drawings show an outdoor pool area.

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    • Editor

      All I know about Phase IV is that it’s two 350-unit residential buildings on a common podium. I don’t think too much thought other than capacity and building envelope ha been done on it.

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  7. How tall will the two 350 unit towers be? is the 30 ft swear easement going to be under a street and if so how wide will it be? Is this what will be called Taylor street?

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    • Editor

      It’s too soon to say how tall the 350-unit towers will be. That’s still far down the road. My guess is in the 20-25 story range.

      I’m not sure what sewer easement you’re talking about. There is an existing sewer tunnel under where the lower park would go, and an existing sewer tunnel under Taylor Street. I don’t know where you get the figure 30 feet from.

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  8. Is Phase 4 going in behind the midrise building 801 S. Wells? We are concerned that it could block the views to the East.

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    • Editor

      Eventually. Like all vacant land in Chicago, eventually someone is going to build something on it. No one’s views are guaranteed, and your views will eventually be blocked just as your building blocked someone else’s view.

      Post a Reply

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