Proposal To Expand Agriculture Magnet Approved

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After years of acrimonious debate, the Chicago City Council has approved a plan to expand the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

The school, located on a 72-acre parcel that is the last working farm in the city limits, is a public magnet school that serves primarily African-American and Hispanic students. It is located in the predominantly white Mount Greenwood community on the city's southwest side.

Residents of the area have protested the plans to expand the school, which now has about 400 students, arguing that it would bring traffic and overcrowding to their neighborhood. But supporters of the school say the opposition is racially motivated.

The school, which occupies a former elementary school building, lacks many of the facilities common to high schools, including a lunchroom, gymnasium, and some science laboratories, said Kevin McCarthy, the school's assistant principal.

The agricultural school has a successful track record in educating students, who come from throughout the city and are not screened for academic ability. Of last year's graduating class of 94 students, Mr. McCarthy said, 80 students went on to college, while many others entered the military or got jobs.

"We are what every other school in Chicago wishes they could be,'' he said. "All we need is a building.''

Breaking the Logjam

Although plans to expand the school have been on the drawing boards for years, opposition from local residents and their representatives on the City Council have stalled progress.

Last summer, Mayor Richard M. Daley, who had previously deferred to the local politicians' opposition to the expansion, called for a compromise so that the facility could be built.

After the Mayor helped to break the logjam, new plans for expanding the school to serve 600 students were drawn up, addressing some of the Mount Greenwood residents' major concerns.

The council approved the new plans this month on a vote of 28 to 16.

Construction is expected to take about two years. The funding for the project, estimated to cost between $14 million and $20 million, will come from the state.

The council vote is not the last hurdle facing the school, however. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a federal lawsuit last summer, arguing that the school should be expanded to serve 1,200 students.

The civil-liberties group believes that the local opposition to the expansion is racially motivated and could deprive current and future students of educational opportunity, said Valerie Phillips, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Vol. 13, Issue 22

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