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Original Article: Public Building Commission

The Public Building Commission (PBC) was honored recently with a Keep Chicago Beautiful 2014 Cultural Restoration Vision Award for its Back of the Yards Campus: Chicago Public High School and Chicago Public Library Branch project and its outstanding contribution to the city’s environment and the community it serves.

The award is given each year by the non-profit organization Keep Chicago Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep Illinois Beautiful, whose mission is to improve the environment through education, public awareness and community involvement.

“We are grateful to Joyce and the Board of Keep Chicago Beautiful for this recognition. Further, we are humbled to be among the honorees whose work stands out as great examples of how we are improving our city’s environment and reshaping our communities,” said PBC Executive Director Erin Lavin Cabonargi who accepted the award last week.

Completed in 2013, The Back of the Yards Campus, 2111 W. 47th Street, sits on land that was once home to a former auto salvage yard located on a busy corner along the bustling 47th Street corridor, with homes that sat within a few yards of abandoned autos, old tires and fuel storage tanks.
The former Brownfields site had many complicated environmental issues to mitigate prior to it being developed as a school and associated campus.  The PBC removed seven underground storage tanks and remediated the associated contamination; excavated and disposed over three feet of contaminated soil over most of the site; treated soils on site and and capped the site with clean, native clay. PBC used these innovative, award-winning remediation strategies to prepare the site for construction because they were more efficient and cost effective than typical clean-up processes. These strategies resulted in a cost savings of over $1 million and resulted in 3,900 fewer truckloads of waste being removed from the site, adding further benefit to the environment.

“With this project, the PBC turned trash into treasure by creating a community anchor that offers a 10-acre campus that is home to the public high school, public library branch and athletic fields for use by the community when school is not in session,” Lavin Cabonargi said. “The synergy of these public services enhances both the academic and community experience and has been a catalyst for change.”

Craig Chico, President and CEO of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council called the project one of the most transformative in the community’s history. “It has had the greatest impact of anything in this community for the past hundred years,” said Chico.

The PBC is committed to environmental sustainability on every project, and the Back of the Yards Campus features an impressive range of sustainable features:

  • More than half of the roof area is covered by a green roof and reflective material to reduce the urban heat island effect.
  • Landscape plantings include adaptive and native species, which require less water.
  • The school was designed to provide daylight and occupancy sensors in every classroom to reduce energy use. In addition, classroom and administrative areas have expansive views of the outdoors.
  • The athletic fields, gym, pool and auditorium are used by the community encouraging neighborhood connectivity and joint use.
  • The school will contain close to 23% recycled materials, and more than 36% of the materials used for this school were regional, meaning they were manufactured within 500 miles of the project site.
  • To date, over 89% of the waste from construction has been recycled or reused, and kept out of landfills.
  • 70 bicycle storage spaces, available shower and changing facilities, and dedicated bike lanes leading to the school help encourage commuting by bicycle.
  • The Back of the Yards High Campus High School was designed to achieve a minimum of Silver rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Schools Rating System.

This is the fourth time this year the Back of the Yards Campus has been singled out for an award. Previously, the project was honored with the Chicago Association of Realtors Good Neighbor Award and the Chicago Building Congress 2014 Merit Award. The PBC was also honored with a national award of excellence by the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) for its environmental program, which demonstrates excellence in meeting the challenges posed by environmentally contaminated project sites in the City of Chicago, Cook County and other surrounding communities in Illinois.

PBC has achieved LEED certification on 66 projects, with an additional 20 certified by others city departments and sister agencies for a total of 86 LEED certifies buildings. Economic and environmental sustainability are at the core of the PBC’s mission and our policies and practices help to create jobs and business opportunities while offering strong environmental stewardship.