Program: A four-story, 17,000-square-foot addition to the kindergarten- to eighth-grade Erie Elementary School’s existing quarters in a former Catholic school in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The expansion, which replaces a convent next door, adds a gymnasium, a library, a computer lab, offices, classrooms for after-school programs and adult education, and an open-air playground on the top floor. Located on a narrow, 46-by-125-foot corner lot, the new building marries into the floor plan of the existing four-story school.

Design concept and solution: Before the expansion, Erie Elementary sorely lacked a gym, a playground, and dedicated classrooms for after-school programs. John Ronan Architects needed to squeeze these normally space-hogging functions into a compact, vertical building on a skinny lot. And the addition had to sync up with each level of the original school, which has extremely low floor-to-floor heights of just over ten feet. To keep the new building’s bones thin and capture every available inch, the design team opted for a steel brace frame structure with precast concrete panels. Using precast meant they could cut down on the number of beams and strategically locate walls underneath beams in order to raise ceiling heights. The architects ran bulky ductwork vertically and concentrated the lighter ducts over offices and other small rooms, reserving the tallest spaces for classrooms. On the exterior, crayon-hued precast panels interlock with a checkerboard of low-e-coated windows so dark they read as flat voids. (The open-air playground, set behind a black steel-mesh screen on the fourth floor, reads as another.) Thanks to the camouflaging effect of the charcoal-hued glass, the design team was able to push the windows beyond the floors and ceilings without calling attention to the window frames and floor structure. From the inside, the glazing has an edgeless quality that helps decompress the small spaces. The architects carried over this space-conscious approach to the interior color palette. Gray vinyl tiles transition to blocky patterns of blue, yellow, and red near windows and in light-filled spaces, such as the double-height lobby.


Client:  Erie Elementary Charter School

Owner:  Erie Elementary Charter School

John Ronan Architects
420 West Huron Street
Chicago, Illinois 60654
Telephone: 312.951.6600
Fax:  312.951.6654

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
John Ronan AIA, Lead Designer
Evan Menk, Senior Technical Coordinator
Gregory Pinter AIA, (design team)
Tom Lee (design team)
Marcin Szef  (design team)
John Trocke  (design team)

Names listed in bold are registered architects

Interior designer:  John Ronan Architects

Goodfriend Magruder Structure, LLC
53 West Jackson Boulevard
Suite 352
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Phone: 312.265.2645

303 West Erie Street
Chicago, Illinois 60654
Phone: 312.915.0557

Terra Engineering, Ltd.
225 West Ohio Street, 4th floor
Chicago, Illinois 60654
Phone: 312.467.0123

Landscape:  Terra Engineering, Ltd.

General contractor:  Norcon, Inc.

Steve Hall
Hedrich Blessing
400 North Peoria Street
Chicago, Illinois 60642
Phone: 312.491.1101

Credit: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing


Gross square footage:

17,470 gross square feet


Total project cost:



Total construction cost:

$5 million


Completion date:

June 2013



Structural system
Structural steel frame, precast concrete plank floors with concrete topping slab, and steel roof joists and decking over the gymnasium. 

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project:
Precast Concrete Planks (floor structure):  Mid-States Concrete Industries

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Trenwyth Astra-Glaze-SW+

Metal Panels: Kingspan Insulated Panels

Metal/glass curtain wall: CMI Architectural Products, Inc.

Precast concrete insulated wall panels: Lombard Architectural Precast Products Company, polished finish by Barrier Corp.

EIFS, ACM, or other:
EIFS:  Dryvit

ACM:  Alcoa Reynobond

Moisture barrier: Grace Construction Products

Curtain wall: CMI Architectural Products, Inc.

Elastomeric:  (TPO) Carlisle SynTec Sure-Weld

Metal frame: CMI Architectural Products, Inc.; Hope’s Windows, Inc.

Glass: Viracon

Insulated-panel or plastic glazing: Polygal

Metal doors: Steelcraft

Wood doors: Algoma Hardwoods, Inc.

Fire-control doors, security grilles: Cookson Rolling Doors

Locksets: Schlage

Closers: LCN

Exit devices: Von Duprin

Pulls: Von Duprin

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Tectum Inc., Armstrong

Suspension grid: Armstrong

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:  Joseph A. Interiors

Paints and stains: Sherwin-Williams

Wall coverings: Walltalkers

Plastic laminate: Nevamar, Pionite

Solid surfacing: Formica

Floor and wall tile:  DalTile (toilet room wet walls)

Resilient flooring: Gerflor Sports Flooring, LLC (gymnasium); Armstrong Migrations

Carpet: Interface

Office furniture: By Others

Reception furniture: By Others

Chairs: By Others