George B, Swift School is celebrating its centennial throughout 2014.

When it opened Feb. 2, 1914, it was the third public school in Edgewater and one of 27 elementary schools in Chicago Public Schools District 1. The three-story neo-classical graystone building was designed by Chicago Board of Education Chief Architect A.F. Hussander and constructed at a cost of $285,000. It included 24 classrooms, assembly hall, gymnasium, equipment for manual training and cooking and a swimming pool. Parents and community residents successfully lobbied CBOE to include the pool in construction plans and raised the $80,000 to cover the costs.

Swift’s physical plant and abutting property have undergone numerous renovations and refurbishments in the past 100 years. Among the most significant:

  • By 1940 construction of a field house on the south playground for extracurricular activities was completed.
  • In 1978 the school switched from a coal-burning furnace to a gas-fired boiler.
  • In 1980 with foresightedness, computer-wired networks were installed in most classrooms.
  • In 1987 the community launched a drive to construct a playground for primary age youngsters on the north side of the building.
  • In 1997 the building was completely abated (asbestos and lead paint were removed) and all windows were replaced.
  • In 2009, the north playground was totally refurbished with new equipment and field turf.
  • In 2010 new flooring was installed in all classrooms and corridors
  • In 2012 the swimming pool was totally renovated.

Fifty years after Swift opened its doors to a first year enrollment of 760 students, the housing stock in the attendance area began to change to meet shifting population needs. Large existing buildings were carved into several dwellings and a new construction boon of multi-unit apartment buildings followed. And the density of the area increased.

By the end of the 1960s, Swift had evolved from a school in an affluent community to a learning center in a gateway neighborhood serving streams of refugees from troubled nations. Cubans were the first to arrive, followed by Vietnamese, Cambodians, Latinos and, most recently, Burmese.

Mushrooming enrollments taxed capacity of the physical plant and classes were conducted in the field house, gymnasium, hallways, storage closets and auditorium. Off-site teaching arrangements were held at the Broadway Armory (physical education) and Senn High School (7th/8th graders).

To ameliorate these learning-impeding conditions, Chicago Board of Education (CBOE) and the Public Buildings Commission approved the construction of a 44,000 sq. ft. addition immediately to the south of the main building. Designed by Architects STR Partners, it was completed in the spring of 1999, accommodates 410 students and includes nine classrooms, computer laboratory, art room, cafeteria and state-of-the-art kitchen. This physical plant milestone ended the 10-year teaching arrangement at Senn and returned physical education classes to the home campus.

There also were significant academic milestones. In 1993, CBOE designated Swift a Specialty School for Reading and Language Arts. Two years later in a CBOE mandate, fine arts (art and music) were added to curricula and the school was renamed George B. Swift Fine and Performing Arts Magnet School.

In 2013, Swift’s overall academic rating climbed to Level 1, the top Chicago Public Schools instruction tier. This coveted distinction was achieved by a multifarious student enrollment of 31.6% Hispanics, 30.5% Blacks, 16.7% Asians, 16.6% whites and 4.6% other.

Swift ended its centennial school year with a student enrollment of 690. Its diverse population speaks 65 languages and includes immigrants and refugees from 50 countries.

Throughout its 100-year history it has been served by only eight principals, with Harlee Till now at the helm. The school was named after George Bell Swift, 36th and 38th Mayor of the City of Chicago whose distinguished public service career included five consecutive terms as Alderman of the 11th Ward, Commissioner of Public Works and member of the Chicago Board of Education. He is interred in Rosehill Cemetery.

The school that bears his name continues to enjoy the distinction of being the only elementary school in the City of Chicago offering swimming and water safety instruction.

Architectural notes: The building exhibits the Classical Revival elements such as Doric columns across the front porch with unique capitals and the use of the keystone as a decorative element above doors and some windows. There are symmetrically placed pediments with beaux arts carvings on the façade at each end of the building. Every effort was made to integrate the style of the one hundred year old building with the addition. Inside you will see the gracious entrance foyer and the Auditorium with the original maple seats. Also available for viewing are two classrooms, one in the original building and one in the addition. As a special treat you will also be able to see the refurbished swimming pool.