Shuttered CPS school acquired by youth nonprofit Kidz Express

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A shuttered neighborhood school acquired by an Austin youth organization will reopen later this month.

Kidz Express, located at 342 S. Laramie, has purchased George Leland School, one of the 50 schools citywide closed by Chicago Public Schools in 2013. The organization’s $200,000 bid offer was approved by the Chicago Board of Education in March, the first acquisition of a closed school by an outside group.

Leland, located at 512 S. Lavergne, will be the first Austin school to reopen.

Launched in 1997, Kidz Express’ programs include tutoring, dance and a computer lab for youth on Saturdays and after school. The organization will be able to serve more young people in Leland’s 15,000 square feet of space, compared to its current 5,000-footprint, said Duane Ehresman, a founder and board member for the nonprofit.

The organization also provides a free hot meal to the roughly 60 youth it serves. That number is expected to grow to about 150 youth at the new location, Ehresman said.

The Laramie location, he added, has been its home since 2005, but the organization has outgrown the space.

“It’s quite a jump for us, but it looked like a space we could grow into,” Ehresman said.

Kidz Express will open at Leland on Sept. 26, and host a grand public opening in October.

The Laramie location could be put on the market, but that hasn’t been decided yet, Ehresman said. The nonprofit is also looking to sell or lease space at Leland to other community organizations and is specifically eyeing a Head Start program.

Austin lost four of its neighborhood elementary schools during CPS’ mass closings due to low enrollment.

Francis Scott Key, Louis Armstrong and Robert Emmet schools also closed, but Leland and Armstrong had attracted interest of late from private developers.

On Sept. 6, 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro will host a community meeting at Austin Town Hall on discuss how the other closed CPS buildings should be reused.

Taliaferro said his goal is to have each school re-purposed for development.

“I’m very happy that they were successful bidders because I know the programs that they’re offering are needed in Austin,” Taliaferro said of Kidz Express.

CPS, he added, is looking for private developers to purchase vacant schools for community development.

Ehresman said his organization is the first such developer to acquire a shuttered CPS school. Armstrong, because of its small size, has drawn interest from about a half-dozen private developers, Taliaferro said.

The alderman’s Tuesday evening meeting at Austin Town Hall will focus on Armstrong, located at 5345 W. Congress Parkway, and Emmet, at 5500 W. Madison.

If you go:

  • Town Hall Meeting on re-purposing of closed Chicago public schools
  • 6:30 p.m., Tuesday Sept. 6
  • Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
  • Hosted by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th)

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