The 30-acre campus of the former St. Joseph High School has been sold to West 40 which plans and alternative school. | Google Maps

The former St. Joseph High School campus in Westchester has been purchased for $8 million, with plans for it to be the home of an alternative school run by the West 40 Intermediate Service Center, a state-funded entity which is an intermediary between the Illinois State Board of Education and 38 public school districts and three co-ops in western Cook County. The school, targeted to serve vulnerable students, is projected to open in fall 2024. 

The “landmark project,” as Dr. Mark Klaisner, executive director for West 40, calls it, has long been a goal for agency, which has been working with several state agencies to design a state-of-the-art school for at-risk students, such as foster students and those who might have social-emotional concerns.

“We are looking at an intensive, small population to support kids that don’t have services elsewhere,” Klaisner said, adding the student population will be approximately 40 students. 

West 40, which serves all of the school districts within the Landmark’s coverage area, also plans to provide additional services for the community.

“There are a lot of possibilities that we are working with. … We don’t want to duplicate things that other people are doing, but we want to be a service-minded organization that provides services for our kids who are maybe struggling,” Klaisner said. 

The former St. Joseph High School campus, located at 10900 W. Cermak Road in Westchester, closed its doors at the end of the 2021-22 school year, citing a decrease in enrollment and financial issues worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason. 

Beginning around 1960, the property had housed both St. Joseph High School, for boys, and Immaculate Heart of Mary High School, for girls, in separate buildings on the campus.

Immaculate Heart of Mary closed its doors in 2004, and a co-ed school operated there under the name St. Joseph until its closure last year.

Following its closure, the future of the campus has been the subject of many discussions as the village of Westchester looked into various prospects, including a community center as well as a light manufacturing complex. 

The proposal sparked a debate on how economic development should happen in the village with many rising in opposition to bringing industrial development to Westchester. 

Greg Hribal, village president of Westchester, said the village was surprised to learn about the purchase as they had been working with other potential developments. 

“The village was working with several individuals, groups, organizations and development firms,” said Hribal. 

The recently elected village president said there were about seven interested parties and he had been working with tax-paying businesses which had interest in the large site. 

Despite the surprise, the village of Westchester is determined to be a good, welcoming neighbor, said Hribal. 

“I certainly believe it is going to be a positive thing for the school and the district that surrounds us,” Hribal. “I do believe we need to work with West 40 so that they complement the village as a whole.” 

Hribal said he is looking forward to seeing a more concrete development plan from West 40. 

Klaisner said West 40 works alongside local superintendents, school districts and principals to help provide professional learning and support systems for at-risk students, as well as overseeing districts to ensure they are in compliance with the state board of education. 

West 40, which has operated out of Hillside for over a decade, recently also bought the former Lexington Elementary School, 415 W. Lexington St. in Maywood, in July 2022 to serve as its new home. The building was purchased from Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview District 89 for approximately $330,000.

According to Klaisner, West 40 will be vacating the Hillside location, which they currently rent, and moving their main office into Maywood this summer. 

West 40 plans to open the St. Joseph campus as a school for at-risk students after renovations are completed. Klaisner said they anticipate renovations to take approximately 18 months and will include tearing down two of the four buildings on the property.

“Two of those [buildings] have dilapidated to the point where they can’t be repaired,” Klaisner said. “The full high school and what was the convent, those two buildings are in really good shape so we will renovate those to establish our school.” 

Renovations have already begun and Klaisner said they are working to get everything up and running, as they currently look to the state and other agencies to really tap into what the biggest need for them to address is. 

“There have been lots of conversations about students in foster care, students at DCFS,” Klaisner said. 

Additionally, conversations have been had regarding how to open the space up for the community as well. Klaisner said there is space and potential to partner with the village for outdoor and indoor activities. 

“It would be a great opportunity to be good neighbors with the village of Westchester in spaces that we are not going to use every single day, or all day long,” Klaisner said.

Conversations surrounding the purchase of St. Joseph began in June 2021, said Klaisner, adding the asking price at the time was out of West 40’s budget. In fall 2022, St. Joseph contacted West 40 to re-engage in a potential purchase, with serious conversations starting around last December. West 40 closed on the property on May 5.