Catholic girls high school in Rogers Park to close

St. Scholastica

St. Scholastica Academy, the renowned girls Catholic high school in Rogers Park, is closing its doors.

Here is the Chicago Tribune story:

More than a decade of sliding enrollment and dwindling donations have forced the closing of St. Scholastica Academy, the venerable girls Catholic high school whose roots in Chicago trace back to the 1860s, officials said Wednesday.

Sister Patricia Crowley, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, which has sponsored St. Scholastica for nearly 150 years, said the school fell into a financial hole years ago and simply hasn’t the money to continue. The academy will close at the end of this school year, Crowley said.

“(The school) has always prided itself on training young women and empowered them to become leaders in civic spheres, in education, business, religion,” Crowley said. “We have trained young women to have a social conscience in the ways of the Gospel.”

Former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne is an alumna, as is former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich. Blagojevich‘s daughter Amy is a current student.

Wednesday evening, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich made a plea for donations to help keep the school going as he made his final public statement before beginning his prison term for corruption.

Enrollment at St. Scholastica, which has occupied the same red brick monastery in Rogers Park since 1906, has dropped from more than 1,000 students a couple of decades ago to just 147 this year, Crowley said. The slide has come as Chicago Public Schools has improved education offerings at some of its elite public high schools and as some boys Catholic schools have gone co-ed.

Crowley said the declining enrollment, combined with shrinking financial gifts from alumnae during the prolonged recession, ultimately doomed the school beloved by generations of women.

“The fact that this school has excelled in women’s education is a great contribution to the city of Chicago,” Crowley said. “It was such a strong educational institution, and at the same time, so socially committed.”

Crowley said if demand is high enough, current juniors could have the option to continue attending what will be called St. Scholastica Senior Academy for another year to earn their diplomas.

Even for former students and employees who knew of the school’s increasingly shaky finances, news of the closing brought a flood of emotions.

Anne Matz, a 1985 graduate who later returned as a teacher and then principal, held back tears as she recalled the life lessons learned at the school.

“It was the most wonderful school in the world,” said Matz, who studied or worked at St. Scholastica for 20 years. “I am a successful woman because of the school and because of what I learned there. Not only in the realm of academics but in being a lifelong learner and a person of high moral standards.”

Matz said her mother, her sister and her aunt were also graduates of St. Scholastica.

“It died a slow death,” Matz said. “There were moments over the last decade of turnarounds and great hope, and I always had faith that girls beyond my generation would be able to take advantage of that.”

Bidder offers $86 million to buy bankrupt Clare

The Clare
Someone has stepped forward to buy The Clare.

A New York developer says it will pay about $86 million to buy The Clare at Water Tower, a bankrupt luxury senior high rise adjacent to Loyola University Chicago’s Water Tower Campus. Loyola owns the land under The Clare and leases the property to the building owner.

Loyola has said it faces limited financial exposure because of the bankruptcy. The university has allowed the current building owner, Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, to delay certain lease payments during the bankruptcy.

Here is a portion of the buyout story from Crain’s Chicago Business:

A New York developer of retirement communities has agreed to pay more than $86 million for the Clare at Water Tower, a 53-story luxury senior housing project in the Gold Coast that filed for bankruptcy protection last November.

Harrison, N.Y.-based Senior Care Development LLC would pay $29.5 million in cash for most of the development’s assets and assume liabilities including about $57 million in resident deposits, according to documents filed last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago.

That is a fraction of the $272 million cost to put up the 248-unit building at 55 E. Pearson St., which was financed with $229 million in debt. Developed by the Homewood-based Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, the Clare was completed in December 2008, in the depths of the global financial crisis, which severely depressed sales of units in the building.

Yet the project’s troubles represent an opportunity for Senior Care Development, which has already acquired two suburban retirement communities out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“We look to buy distressed communities and clean up their balance sheets,” says company CEO David Reis. He declines to discuss the Clare, citing confidentiality agreements.

The Clare filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last November, two months after defaulting on its $229 million mortgage.

Related story: Clare at Water Tower declares bankruptcy

A Clare spokeswoman did not return a call requesting comment, and Franciscan Sisters CEO Judy Amiano was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached.

Just 83 units in the Clare, or 34 percent of the total, were occupied at the end of 2011, according to a court document. Sales in the building suffered in part because many prospective residents had their money locked up in existing homes they couldn’t sell, says Tracy Cross, president of Schaumburg-based consulting firm Tracy Cross & Associates Inc.

The Clare also faces stiff competition from less expensive suburban options for retirees, he says.

“The problem is that it’s unique,” Mr. Cross says. “You have to find a strong desire of someone wanting to live on Michigan Avenue, as opposed to somewhere of lower density in the suburbs. They’re at the highest price point.”

Senior Care Development was chosen as the so-called stalking-horse bidder, or preferred buyer, in an upcoming bankruptcy auction, which means a superior bid can be accepted up until the April 10 bid deadline. A competing bid must be at least $1.85 million more, which would include a$1.6 million breakup fee. If a better offer is received, an auction would be conducted April 12 to sell the building’s assets.

As part of its purchase, Senior Care Development has agreed to change the way the project refunds deposits on its units.

Currently, residents pay an entrance fee of $600,000 or more to live in the tower and monthly fees of at least $2,700, depending on unit size. Residents receive services such as health care and meals.

When a resident moves away or dies, 90 percent of the entrance fee is refunded. Under the current arrangement, a fee is not refunded until other unoccupied units are sold. Because of the high number of unsold units and canceled sales, former residents or their families are stuck on a long waiting list for refunds.

Senior Care Development, seeing that arrangement as an impediment to future sales, has arranged to give refunds immediately after the previous resident’s unit is sold.

“That’s one of the major Achilles’ heels of all endowment-based retirement communities,” Mr. Cross says. “They need to sell all the other units before they give your deposit back.”

Senior Care Development already has taken over two distressed senior-housing developments in the Chicago area. In 2010 it paid about $68 million in cash and assumed debt to acquire two properties of Catonsville, Md.-based Erickson Retirement Communities: Monarch Landing in west suburban Naperville and Sedgebrook in north suburban Lincolnshire.

“Monarch Landing and Sedgebrook have been doing very well in the year and a half since we purchased them,” Mr. Reis says. “We look for projects in good locations with high barriers to entry. In and around Chicago is a very active, terrific market.”

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Loyola won’t change summer class schedule for NATO summit

Sure, the G-8 summit has been moved from Chicago to Camp David.

But protesters, police and traffic jams are still expected for the NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21.

But unlike some other Chicago-based colleges and universities, Loyola University Chicago doesn’t plan to alert the May 21 starting date of summer classes at the Water Town Campus downtown, or the Lake Shore Campus in Rogers Park.

Here is a portion of the story from the Chicago Sun-Times:

At least three universities in and around Chicago’s downtown plan to close or have already changed schedules because of the NATO summit that is expected to attract an influx of thousands of protesters, many security restrictions and commuter headaches.

DePaul has taken the most drastic action, closing its Loop campus and instructing professors slated to teach downtown between May 18 and May 21 to move classes to the Lincoln Park campus, reschedule them or create an alternative assignment for students.

In a statement, DePaul officials said they were taking these precautions “to lessen traffic and address commuting issues that might occur downtown during the summits.” DePaul also moved its law school graduation May 20 from downtown to the Akoo Theatre in suburban Rosemont.

Columbia College shifted its semester start two weeks earlier so that commencement and Manifest, its annual street festival, would not be affected by the summit. In a letter to students and faculty, Columbia President Warrick Carter noted that they would not be able to get a permit for Manifest during the summits and hotel rooms would be extremely hard to come by if the commencement weekend was unchanged.

Loyola University Chicago students will still begin summer classes May 21 at both the downtown Water Tower and Lake Shore campuses. That’s the same day Roosevelt University begins summer school in the Loop, a week delay from its original start date because of the meeting.

Officials at Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and Robert Morris University all said while they were monitoring the situation, nothing in their schools’ schedules had changed.

– Sara E. Luebke