City college seeks to revitalize Chicago's Englewood neighborhood

September 01, 2008 |
Kennedy-King College’s new $100 million campus in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood incorporates a U-shaped quadrangle formed by six buildings on a 467,000-sf site. The quad offers an open, inviting area for students and community residents. An iconic clock tower serves as a campus landmark.
A plaque on the wall outside Kennedy-King College, a new $100 million campus in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, states a somewhat timeworn but still valuable lesson: “If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.”

That homespun truth defines the educational mission of Kennedy-King, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. By locating its new campus in the heart of Englewood, one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods, school planners and the Building Team hope to kick-start development in the area—and provide educational opportunities that lead to good jobs and careers for local residents.

Although Kennedy-King did not pursue LEED certification, the campus incorporates a number of sustainable features, including 70,000 sf of vegetated roofs, low-e glass, and extensive daylighting.   
Two stand-out programs at Kennedy-King are the daycare facility and culinary institute. The daycare facility is open until midnight, providing easier manageability for students with children.
The Washburne Culinary Institute’s first-class kitchens have hosted television programs such as “Iron Chef.”

The campus was designed by Kennedy-King Associates, a 51/49 partnership between minority-owned firm Johnson & Lee Architects and VOA Associates, both of Chicago.

While many of the City Colleges of Chicago are housed in single, monolithic structures, Kennedy-King Associates opted for a U-shaped quadrangle formed by six buildings on a 467,000-sf site. Such a physical statement would provide an open feel to the campus and give students, community residents, and pedestrians the opportunity to enjoy its landscaping and wide streetscapes.

“Even if they've lived in Chicago their whole life, a lot of people in that neighborhood might not have seen a collegiate quadrangle,” says Chris Lee, principal of Johnson & Lee. “We felt that design would have more of an impact.”

A close relationship between classrooms, an on-campus daycare center, and the Chicago Transit Authority's Green Line, which bisects the campus, provides convenient and cost-effective means for students and area residents to get to and from work, school, and home. The daycare center is open until midnight, allowing parents with hectic schedules to attend classes and jobs.

The choice of subcontractors and laborers for the project was based heavily on providing economic benefit to the community. As a result of this policy, a large number of local minority-owned contractors and businesses were hired to construct the school, providing jobs for community members and assuring that those on the job represented the predominantly African American neighborhood.

The goal of creating jobs for community residents even had an impact on the design of the façade. “The likelihood of getting bricklayers and masons who were from the South Side was greater if we used hand-laid brick, and we wanted to have as much community participation as possible,” says Lee. “That's why we went with a masonry façade.”

Kennedy-King offers associate degrees in five programs: liberal arts, science, applied science, general studies, and fine arts—that are training students who might not otherwise have gone to college.

A few programs stand out. The auto body and mechanic training program, for example, has a contract with the City of Chicago to maintain all city-owned non-emergency vehicles. The daycare facility is managed by the college's childcare program and is partly staffed by students in the education curriculum.

But the culinary institute may be what really sets Kennedy-King apart. The Washburne Culinary Institute manages an on-site upscale restaurant, “Sikia”—an African symbol of peace and harmony—where student chefs can practice their craft while catering to Chicago's foodies. The television programs “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef” have used the kitchens and banquet hall to film segments.

The culinary program also offers a restaurant incubator for wannabe chefs. “It provides experience for startup entrepreneurs to use this portion of the facility to get their enterprises off the ground,” says Walter Street, III, project architect in the Kennedy-King Associates project field office.

Sustainable elements of the project include low-e glass, 70,000 sf of green roofs, and daylight views in 75% of occupied spaces. There are also sun baffles on the south and west windows, dedicated outside air systems that increase indoor air quality, and energy recovery units designed to temper air and minimize energy usage. However, Kennedy-King Architects did not pursue LEED certification because they could not justify the extra costs and time to the college.

The project also benefited from thorough documentation during the programming phase. “With building types ranging from swimming pools to kitchens to science laboratories, documentation was critical,” says Paul Hansen, principal with VOA and member of the Building Team. “Without that roadmap, it would've been hard to organize the project.”

The new campus appears to be on the road to success. According to Kennedy-King president Clyde El-Amin, the college experienced a 48% increase in enrolled credit students and a 40% total student increase when its doors opened in the fall of 2007, its first full semester of operation.

As for the college being a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood, VOA's Hansen says, “It certainly has the potential to have a ripple effect.”

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