Rebuild Foundation: New Life for a Historic Property

Powers & Sons was selected by Rebuild Foundation as the general contractor to transform the dilapidated former St. Laurence Elementary School into a new community arts center.

Located at 1353 East 72nd Street, the three-story brick structure with Art Deco and Prairie School architectural influences had been shuttered since 2002. The building was slated for demolition before it was rescued by the Rebuild Foundation. The parish church was razed in 2014.

The Design Vision

Created by University of Chicago Professor Theaster Gates, Rebuild Foundation is an artist-led, community-based platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation.

It provides free arts programming and amenities to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods. It also helps artists scale creative ideas to build income and operate arts-based businesses.

Gates combines his expertise in urban planning and art to preserve Chicago history. Rebuild Foundation also operates the Stony Island Arts Bank, the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, and Kenwood Gardens.

St. Laurence School has been a South Shore landmark for decades. Many of the original materials, finishes, and architectural features are being preserved in the Muller & Muller design.

When completed in the fall of 2023, the $10 million St. Laurence Arts Incubator will span 40,000 SF of artist’s studios, classrooms, and co-working spaces, including a research lab with an archival collection on Black culture.

“The design reflects the building’s historic character. Patches on the gym floor won’t be an exact match, but the client is OK with some flaws to retain authenticity,” explains Project Manager Rob Kennedy.

The gym will become an art exhibit space. Original plasterwork around the stage and decorative brick wall veneers are being repaired and restored. Ceilings will be left exposed.

The Rebuild Foundation’s Construction Project Manager is Shirin Shahin. “Shirin is onsite daily and is our go-to contact as we execute the work,” notes Kennedy. The foundation’s eyes and ears, Shahin has been integral to the project since its inception.

Project Management Approach

According to Kennedy, the bones of the structure are strong, with sturdy concrete beams, decks, and masonry exterior. Structural repairs have been minimal.

New building components, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems, are being installed along with new exterior windows, flooring, and other materials. The entire building will be updated and modified for ADA compliance, including a full elevator system to reach every floor.

Project Manager Robert Kennedy (shown on far right) joined Rebuild Foundation Founder Theaster Gates (on left) and Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois’ first lady (middle) at a groundbreaking event on May 3, 2022. Financial support includes State of Illinois funding and a $1 million gift from the Clayco Foundation.

Renovating a structure that has been vacant for 20 years can come with a few challenges.

  • The building had no interior plumbing, electrical service, or mechanical systems of any kind. Old piping and other components are being removed.
  • Supply chain issues and challenges have impacted the delivery of new equipment. Delivery of a new electrical switchgear unit and permanent power through the utility company is not expected until October. Currently, electrical cables in alleyways power the work.
  • Thick concrete foundations hamper air flow in the basement which created moisture problems. The building is also not currently connected to the city’s combined sewer and storm system.
  • Lead paint was used in many parts of the building, so metal stud frames covered with new drywall are being installed to contain and encapsulate these areas.

Preconstruction services began in 2020 followed by the start of construction in April of 2021, with Powers & Sons self-performing some of the carpentry and interior demolition.

In total, about 25 Chicago subcontractors representing all trades are expected to be utilized on the project. At least 50% of the on-site workforce will be City of Chicago residents. In addition, the work will meet 35% MBE and 15% WBE participation goals.

Powers & Sons Superintendent Chitan Bibbs and Project Engineer Megan Andres are also on the team.