Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Cristo Rey H.S. Gets First Approval

Jesuit school would expand to 500 students, move to old grocery at 1818 W. National Ave.

By - Jan 23rd, 2018 09:49 am
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Rendering of new Cristo Rey Jesuit High School location. Rendering by PRA.

Rendering of new Cristo Rey Jesuit High School location. Rendering by PRA.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School’s plan to purchase and redevelop the former Pick ‘n Save grocery store at 1818 W. National Ave. secured its first approval yesterday. The City Plan Commission unanimously recommended approval of the $20 million project. Leaders of the school envision a substantial redevelopment of the 112,000 square-foot building, with 500 students learning Algebra and History where their parents formerly bought them milk and cereal.

Cristo Rey’s Milwaukee school is part of a national network of 32 schools. The first opened in Chicago in 1996, with the Milwaukee school opening in 2015. The school currently has 324 students at their 45,000-square-foot facility at 1215 S. 45th St. in West Milwaukee.

School president Andy Stith portrayed the move into Milwaukee’s Clarke Square neighborhood as not only good for the school, but good for the area. “If a downturn happens we won’t be looking to move out; this school will be an anchor in the community.” Roundy’s closed the Pick ‘n Save in 2016, shortly after being acquired by Kroger.

The voucher school’s move into Clarke Square is being met with support from area alderman Jose G. Perez. “We don’t have enough high schools in the area,” Perez told the commission. He noted that Milwaukee Public Schools‘ Bradley Tech High School has an estimated 85 percent of its students bused in from outside the area, owing to its technical focus. The other area MPS high school, South Division, does an admirable job with a curriculum including English as a second language, but isn’t big enough for the entire area according to Perez.

In critiquing plans for the project, Perez said “this site is somewhat challenged. It’s not the most urban-friendly building.” Project consultant Sandy Stevenson wasn’t so nice in describing the building. “Our challenge is to take a soul-less big box that doesn’t do anything for the neighborhood when it’s not occupied and bring in natural light and mimic where the students are headed, to a corporate environment,” he told the commission.

The school purchased the building in November 2017 for $4.5 million and hopes to relocate in time for the 2019-20 school year.

A rendering by Plunkett Raysich Architects depicts the building’s facade being overhauled. Stith, in responding to a question from the commission, said the school might also have to literally raise the roof of the building. The plan is  to build a gym in the middle of the building.

Cristo Rey’s request to rezone the site will next go before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

About Cristo Rey

Student tuition is funded through three primary sources. The school is a participant in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, with the school receiving a $7,969 voucher for each qualifying student. That voucher payment from the state and city is supplemented by donations and a unique student work program. The work-study program, of which students are required to participate in one day a week, redirects the pay the student would have received towards their tuition.

Father Bill Johnson, vice president of strategic growth for the school, noted that the Notre Dame School of Milwaukee at 1420 W. Scott St. provides the greatest number of students to Cristo Rey. Moving to 18th and National will put the two schools within a couple blocks of each other.

Past Plans for Site

Pick 'n Save in Clarke Square

Pick ‘n Save in Clarke Square. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

The rezoning approval by the City Plan Commission comes 364 days after they approved another proposal for the former grocery store. E-commerce company Wantable had proposed to purchase and rehab the facility into their headquarters, with an attached grocery store. The online clothing company intended to employ up to 400 people in the facility, with many coming from the area.

Those plans ultimately did not advance, with Wantable citing unexpected costs.

The Pick ‘n Save grocery store opened on the site in January 1997 with 160 employees. The city contributed $2.6 million to the project via tax-incremental financing district “for the acquisition of a severely blighted site, relocation of tenants and businesses, environmental remediation, demolition and site improvements” according to a TIF report. That investment was fully recouped by incremental property taxes as of 2015. Cristo Rey, by contrast, will be exempt from property taxes.

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