HUMBOLDT PARK — Protracted plans to redevelop long-vacant Von Humboldt Elementary School into an 107-unit apartment complex for teachers got a boost in city funding to help move plans forward.
Newark, New Jersey-based RBH Group was awarded $18 million in tax-exempt bonds last month to bring “Teachers Village” to the shuttered Humboldt Park elementary school, 2620 W. Hirsch St., setting the stage for redevelopment.
Now, the developer is working with the city’s Department of Housing to secure more public financing to bring its ambitious project to life. The development is expected to cost $50.6 million.
“We are on track to close public financing by the end of the year and anticipate commencing construction immediately thereafter,” RBH Group’s CEO Ron Beit said in an emailed statement.
RBH Group received City Council approval in 2020 for its “Teachers Village” project, which is modeled after a similar development in New Jersey.
The Humboldt Park development proposal includes 102 apartments marketed toward educators and five market-rate townhomes. There will also be commercial and retail space, a “community as campus” learning center, a public plaza, and 53 parking spaces.
RBH Group agreed to reserve 52 of the apartments as affordable units, including 27 funded through Chicago Housing Authority vouchers, in response to concerns from Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st).
La Spata previously said he pushed the developer to include units for low- and moderate-income residents being priced out of gentrifying Humboldt Park and Logan Square.
Nearly three years later, RBH Group is pressing ahead with the city-approved plans, company spokesperson Lonnie Soury said. The developer made “minor modifications” to the interior layout, but those changes have been approved by the city, Soury said.
Like many other real estate developments in the city, the “Teachers Village” project has been delayed by pandemic challenges like the shaky economy and the supply shortage, said La Spata’s chief of staff, Nicholas Zettel.
“Every developer would say, to some degree, that the pandemic impacted their operations. In this case, I really think it’s true that the pandemic took a bite out of this one,” Zettel said.
Zettel and Soury stressed the project is complex and was always expected to take several years to come to fruition. The proposal was first introduced to the community in 2016.
“When you have a project like this, which involves public financing, private financing, bonds and city approval … they take a lot of work and a lot of time and the process is slower than we would all like, but certainly one that is moving along,” Soury said.
Von Humboldt was one of nearly 50 “underutilized” public schools closed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013, a move that sent shockwaves through Chicago and across the country.
Redevelopment of Von Humboldt is a sensitive topic among former students and parents and neighbors, who were devastated when the school was shut down.
The elementary school has a long history in Humboldt Park. The original school building was constructed in the 1880s and designed by John J. Flanders, the district’s official architect at the time, according to local historians. W. August Fiedler designed the school’s second building, which was built in 1895 and meant to address overcrowding. A third addition, designed by Arthur Hussander, went up in 1921.
RBH Group plans to preserve the school’s original exterior as part of its redevelopment.
The “Teachers Village” project is Chicago’s latest school conversion.
The former Stewart Elementary School in Uptown was redeveloped into the Stewart School Lofts in 2018, a project considered a symbol of gentrification for its high rent prices. Peabody Elementary School in Noble Square was also recently converted into luxury apartments.