“A community organization is reviving vacant spaces in Englewood with interactive weekend programs aimed at neighborhood youth.
“Teamwork Englewood — a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for neighbors through economic, educational and social opportunities — will offer three free community programs beginning Saturday for Englewood’s youth. The programs will be held at Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St., which was closed by the school district this summer.
“Cecile DeMello, executive director for Teamwork Englewood, said the initiative showcases how Englewood natives are turning negative situations into positive, community-driven opportunities.
“I hope this city is seeing how, in Englewood, we are trying to be innovative and taking some of the vacant spaces in our community and using them for the needs of our community in creative ways,” DeMello said. ‘We’re thinking about how spaces can meet the unique needs of our community and how there can be unique partnerships that can be built by leveraging city resources.’
“We’re able to engage young people in some positive programming that can keep them out of trouble, help them to think about new careers and also build a sense of community,’ DeMello said. ‘Our programs have brought young people together that may have never come together in a positive, facilitated way to build relationships across this community.’
“Other youth providers in the community were facing the same challenges as us. They didn’t have big enough space and they were trying to avoid virtual programming,’ DeMello said. ‘So, they said, ‘Well, what if we could just ask [Chicago Public Schools] if we could use some space at Harper High School?’
“Often touted as the oldest neighborhood school in Englewood, Harper closed its doors permanently June 30. The closure was part of a ‘phase out’ of three neighboring high schools, including Hope and Robeson, to make way for a new STEM school in the area.
“Working with CPS’ Facilities Department, DeMello was able to secure space in the closed school for Teamwork Englewood and other community groups, such as GoodKidsMadCity. They have access to a few classrooms and the gymnasium. As the program continues to grow, DeMello hopes she can use more vacant spaces for more youth-driven programming, she said.
“’Even though it’s cool that this is happening inside of this closed school, we’re really just advocating for more youth-based programs in spaces like Englewood, period,’ DeMello said.” (Reed, Block Club Chicago, 10/21/21)
Designed by celebrated architect Dwight Perkins in 1911, the four-story brick Harper High School at 6520 S. Wood Street is bold in its execution, with its well-organized composition expressing its strong massing and verticality. As this was a public school with a limited construction budget, Perkins sought to reduce the amount of expensive materials like limestone or terra cotta. Determined to make a beautiful school for the children, his brilliant and creative design used inexpensive brick in highly creative and visually compelling ways. His design used wide brick piers accentuated with large flat masonry surfaces, and elaborate fields of intricately patterned brickwork with integrated bands of ornamentation resulting in a beautifully ornamented façade.
Harper High School became a Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2018 when Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Board of Education voted for its permanently closure. There was concern that this important building would remain empty for a protracted period of time and fall into disrepair. At that time we encouraged adaptive reuse of the historic high school building which has always served as a focal point within the community. We recommended that Harper High School’s large auditorium, indoor pool, and gymnasium be repurposed as a community fitness center and community gathering space, possibly a Chicago Park District field house. Additionally, we suggested that the building’s many classrooms could easily be converted into housing units possibly including affordable housing, senior housing, and/or veterans housing. We sully support this current reuse plan and hope to see it expanded across the entire Harper High Building. Furthermore, we consider this a best practice for these valuable assets and encourage all vacant former Chicago Public School buildings to be repurposed for their respective communities.
In Englewood, Closed Harper High School Becomes Community Hub For Young People; Students can play basketball, practice yoga or connect with peers during Saturday programs organized by Teamwork Englewood, Atavia Reed, Block Club Chicago, 10/21/21