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Sep 20 / Neal

UNO Celebrates Its New Galewood School

A laser light show at UNO Galewood Charter School's opening party

A huge crowd gathered Wednesday night to celebrate United Neighborhood Organization’s opening of their UNO Galewood Charter School campus at 2050 N. Natchez Ave. Hundreds filled the area west of the building while lasers danced against the soaring south wall of the school in an atmosphere resembling an art installation. T-shirts and toys from Radio Flyer were given away to excited children. A mariachi band played to the festive crowd while at least 7 camera crews from TV stations set up on a platform built for the occasion.

As the ceremony began, an A-list of dignitaries filled the stage including Gov. Quinn, Mayor Emmanuel, Alderman Sposato (36th Ward), State Rep. Arroyo (3rd District), Radio Flyer “Chief Wagon Officer” Robert Pasin, Jesse Ruiz (VP of Chicago Board of Education) and UNO CEO Juan Rangel.

The $18 million school was built with funds from a grant provided by the State of Illinois. UNO CEO Juan Rangel and Rep. Arroyo recalled sending a large group of UNO supporters to Springfield to rally support for UNO’s effort to build new schools in Chicago. UNO was concerned about overcrowding in neighborhood schools and the lack of quality education opportunities. Supporters, always wearing yellow shirts, met with legislators and members of the government and built a coalition to their cause. UNO now  operates 13 charter schools in Chicago with an enrollment of nearly 7,000 students, with plans for more schools underway.

The building itself is architecturally stunning especially in contract to schools currently in the neighborhood. Its clean lines and modern materials of concrete and wood “come from the earth” while the building “reaches for the sky,” according to architect Patricia Natke of UrbanWorks. The architect referred to the humanitarian design of the structure and achieving social change through its architecture.

More than 450 union construction workers built the school in just eight short months. One hundred construction and fabrication managers were involved in the project and the school has 45 employees. The project reached a 50% participation rate by women- and minority-owned companies.

Rangel spoke of early disagreements with Alderman Sposato concerning the school, which filled local papers and TV stations, but praised Sposato, who “always had the community in his mind first.” Whatever issues the two had in the past appear to have been more than resolved. Rangel also invited the community to use the building.

Governor Quinn addressed the crowd and acknowledged his 30 years of residency in Galewood, proudly pointing out landmark local businesses including Mars’ candy factory, the Shriners Hospital, and Radio Flyer.

The ceremonies ended with an impressive light and fireworks show. The crowd was then invited to tour the building and its impressive spaces. The 3rd floor library which Patricia Natke referred to as the “knowledge center” has a soaring ceiling. The classrooms have glass walls so the students can see out and staff can see in giving the school a sense of transparency. The school also features dedicated art and music rooms for student enrichment.

See the photos from the slideshow in in our Flickr gallery.

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