2021 LANDMARKS ILLINOIS RICHARD H. DRIEHAUS FOUNDATION PRESERVATION AWARD FOR RESTORATION
Architecture firm JGMA led the innovative project to transform a long-vacant former Kmart store into a vibrant campus for Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, which provides education opportunities and professional mentoring to minority families living below poverty level. By reusing this building, Cristo Rey eliminated a barrier to equity by tackling disparities in educational options and provided opportunities to pursue post-secondary education. The project is also a successful example of an adaptive reuse project at a former big box store as retail vacancy is becoming an issue in many suburban communities across the United States. In addition to that, it serves as inspiration for other schools in the Cristo Rey Network: The Philadelphia Cristo Rey school is moving into an abandoned tricycle factory and in Milwaukee, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School will convert a vacant grocery store.
The project symbolizes an expanded definition of preservation, one that is more equitable and inclusive. It opens the door to the next preservation era where what a community values is recognized, where no building is overlooked for its reuse potential and where inclusion, equity and environmental sustainability are prioritized. Instead of demolishing this building, the former Kmart now serves as symbol of hope and investment in a predominately minority, low-income community where less than 10% of the population has earned a college degree. While a Kmart is not necessary a notable landmark or historic building, it still has a history within that community.