Earlier this month, the University announced that it would construct the new Early Childhood Center (ECC) for the Lab Schools on the site where the old Doctors Hospital now stands. While parts of this plan have ruffled the feathers of some residents who are concerned about dividing the Lab Schools’ campus or leveling a historic building, the plan is still a step forward for Lab and for the community as a whole.
Besides addressing the Lab Schools’ need for more space, the expansion to the Doctors Hospital site provides two significant benefits to the wider Hyde Park community. Currently, vehicles dropping off or picking up students from Lab delay traffic on 59th Street and present a nuisance to anyone using the road for any other reason. During busy times of the day, traffic issues around Lab are compounded by cars going to and from the Booth School. And if Lab remains on a single site as the Schools expand to accommodate a larger student body, these congestion problems will only worsen. Besides redirecting some of that traffic to a separate area, the ECC’s new location will include a drop-off and pick-up lane to keep children—and their parents’ stopped cars—well away from traffic on Stony Island Avenue.
Furthermore, the area surrounding the abandoned Doctors Hospital is an underdeveloped, underutilized eyesore. It is inefficient and unwise for the University, which already owns the Doctors Hospital, to allow the property to languish. Although the hospital is a historic structure and some will balk at the idea of demolishing it, its design is limiting and difficult to reappropriate for new uses. And while people may have reservations about this particular building project, at least it is something. The Maroon is happy to see the beginning of some positive change in a neighborhood that has time and again resisted development, often with only the barest justifications.
To keep the Doctors Hospital an empty, shuttered shell because neighbors like to admire its architecture, or because Lab Schools parents fear some nebulous changes that may be wrought by dividing the Schools’ campus, just isn’t a sensible course of action. Developing the ECC on the Doctors Hospital site may not be ideal, but on balance it is beneficial for Lab and for Hyde Park, and it’s encouraging to see the University moving decisively forward with the plan.
—The Maroon Editorial Board includes the Editor-in-Chief and Viewpoints Editor.