top of page
emmet from below - Max Herman.jpg

Photo by Max Herman

emmet sign - Manuel Martinez.jpeg

Photo by Manuel Martinez

Robert Emmet Elementary

Despite having received The Illinois State Improvement Award in 2010 and 15-point increase in test scores in the years following, Emmet was closed in 2013 because of so-called “underperformance” and “underutilization”. This also shut down the half-day preschool and full-day kindergarten housed in the building. In addition to Emmet, five more elementary schools in Austin were either closed or turned around that same year: Armstrong, Key, Lewis, May and McNair. During the public hearing process, Austin community members expressed deep concern for student safety crossing gang boundaries commuting to new schools. While this prompted the district in-part to expand the Safe Passage program, Emmet was nonetheless closed and its student body redirected to Ellington and DePriest the following school year.


Austin is emblematic of white flight, redlining, and disinvestment in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Once a thriving Black, middle-class community, city policies have facilitated and exacerbated economic decline over time. Between 2006 and 2020, the median income of Austin residents dropped from $38,604 to $35,555 (in 2020 dollars).


The first bid for redevelopment was for a health center. It was ultimately thwarted when two key partners pulled out after facing resistance from the community. Then-Director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce Amara Enyia noted in 2017 that “there’s a way that things need to be worked through. We have to make it clear to developers that you have to get buy-in on the front end, instead of having to backtrack.” The property was ultimately sold on February 9, 2018 to Westside Health Authority for the development of the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation.

Researched by Jenna Pollack

Screen Shot 2022-08-08 at 13.39.30.png


Click here to see complete PDF

Quick Facts

Address: 5500 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60644

School Type: Neighborhood

Neighborhood: Austin

Student Body: 99% Black

Building Area: 72,400 sqft

Land Area: 133,600 sqft

Zoning: B3-2

Assessed Value: $75,000 - $100,000

Sale Price: $75,000

Sale Date: February 9, 2018

Purchaser: Westside Health Authority

Planning Region: West

Repurposing Proposal: "The Purchaser's proposal is to use the Property to expand its community employment center that assists local residents find employment and long term career success, including job readiness, job placement, support services and vocational training.”

Annual Maintenance Costs (as school): $272,733

Annual Carry Costs (vacant): $119,696

emmet render draft.jpeg

Design by Zhilin Cai

Austin's vision for Emmet:
The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation

aspire rendering.png

Image by The Aspire Center

The Aspire Center Partners:

  • Project Owner/Developer: Westside Health Authority (WHA)

  • Co-Project Manager: Austin Coming Together

  • Architect: Lamar Johnson Collaborative

  • Project Consultant: IFF

  • State Sponsor:  State Rep La Shawn K Ford

The Center for Workforce Innovation is part of the larger ASPIRE Initiative: A large-scale effort that will create conditions for resident empowerment, health, prosperity, and happiness. It includes a new state-of-the-art early learning, health and recreation center called The Aspire Education & Wellness Campus; new programs and support to increase enrollment at the Austin College and Career Academy; renovation of the vacant Emmet School into the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation; and Aspire Housing, a multi-tiered approach to provide homeownership assistance, plus new or renovated units for sale.


The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation is a massive, long-term investment in Austin  that will build area capacity to: 

  • Train over 4,900 workers in programs that will increase their ability to earn a living wage over a period of 5 years.

  • Create 100 new living wage jobs within the first five years and anchor $28 million in investment to the targeted geography of the community area.

  • Increase the income of 500 Austinites and help 250 more acquire access to capital for business and/or property ownership by the year 2030.

"We strongly believe that The Aspire Center will provide a business innovation hub and become a catalyst for community housing and increased home ownership while enhancing career opportunities for our Austin citizens." 

- Morris Reed, CEO Westside Health Authority

Video by Good Neighbor Campaign


Image from the National Gallery of Ireland

About Robert Emmet

Robert Emmet (4 March 1778 – 20 September 1803) was an Irish nationalist and Republican, orator and rebel leader. After leading an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 he was captured then tried and executed for high treason against the British king.


He came from a wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestant family who sympathized with Irish Catholics and their lack of fair representation in Parliament. The Emmet family also sympathized with the rebel colonists in the American Revolution. While Emmet’s efforts to rebel against British rule failed, his actions and speech after his conviction inspired his compatriots.


Emmet became a heroic figure in Irish history. His speech from the dock is widely quoted and remembered, especially among Irish nationalists. As he and his family also supported the American Revolutionary War, he is remembered there as well.

Sources: WTTW, Chicago Reporter, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), Austin Weekly News, Austin Coming Together (ACT), The Aspire Center, and Wikipedia

bottom of page