CRISTO REY ST. MARTIN COLLEGE PREP, WAUKEGAN

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.

PROJECT PRINCIPALS

  • Sofia Fernandez, Emilio Padilla, Juan Moreno & Dan Spore, JGMA
  • Eric Norman, Clevenger Associates
  • Preston Kendall, Cristo Rey Network
  • Dennis Mandala, D.A.M. Plumbing
  • Josh Dortzbach, Forefront Structural Engineers
  • Steve Woods, GHC Mechanical
  • Jorge Gloger, Gloger Engineers, Ltd
  • ICDesign
  • Mark Carlson, Mechanical Services Associates Corp.
  • Jason Agostinho, US Alliance Fire Protection
  • U.S Rep. Brad Schneider
  • IL Sen. Terry Link
  • IL Rep. Rita Mayfield
  • U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth
  • U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin
  • Jason Breden, McShane Construction Company

LI ASKS: WHY IS THIS PLACE IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Preston Kendall, President, Cristo Rey Network

This place is important to me because this is a predominantly Spanish speaking minority community that rarely sees investment. It is also a community that feels the pain of violence, feels the pain of unemployment and feels the pain of low wages. This project gives the youth, which is the future, the opportunity to gain knowledge. And as we know, knowledge is power. It provides them with the opportunity to receive higher education as well as exposure to corporate America. Their professional network will grow at an early age, positively impacting them on their career pursuits and throughout their lives. This is also important to me because these are issues impacting the entire country. This subject matter has to do with equality, with rights, with suppression and with racism. These topics are important to me because it is through our architecture that we find ways to change the narrative and create change.

HOW DID SAVING THIS PLACE IMPACT PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

Preston Kendall, President, Cristo Rey Network

The former Kmart had been empty for many years and was a constant symbol of negativity and lack of investment on the Waukegan community. The repurposing and adaptive reuse of the Kmart building into the new Cristo Rey high school not only provided the youth of Waukegan with a contemporary learning environment but it sent a profound message to the residents of Waukegan that there was investment in their city and that change could occur. Most people in that community felt like nobody cared about them, and they never thought that anything would be built at that Kmart. The new facility matches Cristo Rey St. Martin’s innovative pedagogy, giving students the high-quality campus they deserve. It serves as an extraordinary example of preservation effort because the empty big box has now become a common place through the United States.

It is worth mentioning that many cities are failing to address these transformations, especially in low-income communities. This project had a budget that’s significantly less than what’s typically found in the wealthier communities that surround Waukegan, but nonetheless it accomplished it purpose: giving a new use and new light in a way that inspires the users but also the community where it sits.

 

Learn More about Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep

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