In a Nutshell
What: The development of a six-acre learning, wellness, and sustainability hub that will achieve Living Building Challenge certification – anchored by K-8 public charter school Academy for Global Citizenship. The campus will also include an ECE center, Federally Qualified Health Center, a community produce market and café, and more.
Location: Chicago, IL (LeClaire Courts)
Size: On a six-acre campus, multiple facilities totaling 85,000-90,000 square feet
Cost: $53.14 million
Sources of Funding/Financing: New Markets Tax Credits (allocated by IFF, BMO Harris Bank, Rose Urban Green Fund, Dudley Ventures, and the National Development Council, with US Bank serving as the equity investor); Illinois state capital grant, private grant funding, borrower equity
IFF Support: $9 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation (closed in March 2022)
IFF Staff Lead: Marina Titova, Managing Director – Structured Finance
Design: Farr Associates and SMNG A
General Contractor: Joint-venture partnership between Power Construction Company and Sergeant Construction
Owner’s Representative: URBAN ReSOLVE
Impact: During construction, the creation of 100 FTE jobs. Once the project is completed, the retention of 67 FTE jobs and creation of 33 new FTE jobs; creation of 22 new K-8 seats for AGC students; creation of 120 ECE seats; access to quality health care and behavioral services for up to 2,700 people annually. Impact numbers reflect those estimated in a Community Benefits Agreement at the time financing for the project closed and may differ from current estimates and actual impact numbers once the project is completed.
At the corner of 44th Street and Laporte Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side, a rebirth is underway. On a six-acre site where a portion of the Chicago Housing Authority’s LeClaire Courts complex stood for more than 60 years, a new learning, sustainability, and wellness hub anchored by the K-8 Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is now being built. It’s a project that’s redefining the catalytic role schools can play in economic and community development, how education can prepare children to thrive in the 21st century, and the many ways the built environment can support a more sustainable future – with the goal of establishing a replicable model from which communities all around the world can draw.
Opened in 2008, AGC is a dual-language International Baccalaureate public charter school that currently serves 468 students, each of whom are the beneficiaries of an innovative pedagogical model that blends a strong academic foundation with an approach designed to serve the whole child and cultivate the next generation of globally minded citizens. The new campus, which broke ground in May and will be known as the Cultivate Collective hub, is being developed by AGC in partnership with a multitude of community partners through a nonprofit known as the Cultivate Collective; a necessity given the ambitious plan for the site.
“The approach to this new campus has been to reimagine the role of schools in communities with a goal of addressing the racial, social, and environmental injustices in our backyard,” says Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, AGC’s founder and executive director. “We’re significantly expanding the scope of programs and services that will be offered at our community hub in response to local needs. Our hub will not only be a place that educates children, but a vibrant neighborhood center and resource for families and community residents who have experienced decades of systemic inequities.”
In the southwest side neighborhood where the Cultivate Collective hub is located, these inequities include a lack of access to nutritious foods at a full-service grocery store; limited access to health care services, with 46 percent of residents considered medically underserved; pervasive poverty perpetuated by a historic lack of investment; and environmental injustice driven by a high concentration of industrial sites in the area.
The approach to this new campus has been to reimagine the role of schools in communities with a goal of addressing the racial, social, and environmental injustices in our backyard.
As a whole, the Cultivate Collective hub is designed to directly address each community challenge, and central to its ability to do so will be a 71,000-square-foot facility that brings several vital resources under one roof. A portion of the facility will provide AGC with the space needed to consolidate all of its students into one building for the first time in its history after operating in two leased facilities for the past 11 years. This will eliminate operational challenges inherent in running one school in two locations separated by a six-block walk, provide AGC with the space needed to increase enrollment to 490 students, and enable the school to provide a richer educational experience to students bolstered by experiential outdoor learning spaces.
Also included in the facility will be an early childhood education (ECE) center operated by AGC, which will provide quality early learning for 120 children each year; a Federally Qualified Health Center operated by Esperanza Health Centers, which will provide culturally relevant primary care and behavioral health services for up to 2,700 people annually; a community produce market and café that will increase access to nutritious foods; and six teaching kitchens that will support training in the culinary arts, general nutrition education for students and members of the community, and a “food pharmacy” program that will prescribe and provide fresh produce to individuals with diet-related diseases and illnesses.
Fueling the teaching kitchens and community produce market and café will be a three-acre urban farm operated by Urban Growers Collective, which will include a 5,400-square-foot barn with rescued livestock, a production greenhouse, and 12 hoop houses – which, collectively, are expected to provide 70 percent of the food for AGC students’ meals. Also designed as a teaching tool for students, the farm will provide year-round, hands-on opportunities for students to learn how to plant, harvest, and prepare healthy food in a sustainable way. Natural play areas, educational wetlands, and orchards will be integrated throughout the campus, supporting AGC’s vision for education outside of the traditional classroom environment.
“AGC’s values, principles, and vision are focused on cultivating a generation of students who are equipped not only with a strong academic foundation, but with the skills necessary to make meaningful impact in the world,” says Ippel. “One of the things that’s fundamentally different about our approach is that 30 percent of each school day will be spent outside immersed in nature as we use the whole campus as a teaching and learning tool.”
A crucial element of the learning experience for students and community members alike will be a number of environmentally friendly design features on the campus, which is on track to become the first project in the Midwest and just the 25th project in the world to achieve certification through the Living Building Challenge – the most rigorous environmental sustainability standards on the planet. With 50 geothermal wells, more than 500 kW of solar panels, rain capture, natural water purification, water recycling, and more, the Cultivate Collective hub will achieve net energy positivity by generating 105 percent of its energy needs, as well as net water positivity.
And, while all those who visit the campus will benefit, so too will those who build it. The project will create green construction jobs and provide hands-on workforce training in sustainable technologies, including solar and geothermal energy. Cultivate Collective is requiring that at least half of all hours worked on the project are by City of Chicago residents and will maximize BIPOC participation by prioritizing the hiring of residents from the surrounding community, where more than half of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.
The Cultivate Collective hub will be a place that will incubate, evaluate, and disseminate best practices in education and, more broadly, in sustainability and community development.
In their roles as the general contractors through a joint-venture partnership, Power Construction Company and Sergeant Construction will oversee the construction of the Cultivate Collective hub, which was designed by Farr Associates and SMNG A. IFF provided a $9 million New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) allocation for the $53 million project, with additional NMTC allocations provided by BMO Harris Bank, Rose Urban Green Fund, Dudley Ventures, and the National Development Council (with US Bank serving as the equity investor). Other sources of funding for the project include an Illinois state capital grant, private grant funding, and borrower equity.
As the Cultivate Collective hub prepares to open in the fall of 2023, fundraising is underway for a second phase of the project that will focus on economic development, job training, community wealth generation, and continuing to build out educational opportunities around environmental stewardship. Current plans call for additional facilities to house the AGC Institute, where public school teachers will have access to training resources; a training hub for construction jobs focused specifically on inclusive participation in the growth of the clean economy; and an environmental education center, to host field trips for students from Chicago and throughout the State of Illinois.
Once completed, the Cultivate Collective hub will serve as a powerful example of how, through thoughtful planning, community engagement, and coalition-building, historically under-resourced communities can develop infrastructure that directly addresses local needs and ensures that vital services essential to every vibrant community are readily available. Over time, AGC and the rest of the partners in the Cultivate Collective hope that the campus’ status as a demonstration site for this approach provides communities in the United States and beyond with a model to draw from to address local challenges in a sustainable way – and at a cost comparable to the development of a traditional school building.
“The vision has always been to serve as a learning laboratory,” says Ippel. “The Cultivate Collective hub will be a place that will incubate, evaluate, and disseminate best practices in education and, more broadly, in sustainability and community development. Rather than our organization replicating our model in other places, our goal is to support schools, educators, and communities all over the world in adapting this model to address their own place-based challenges in a way that’s culturally relevant and reflective of their unique assets and opportunities.”