Old Kmart turned into state of the art school for suburban students

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WAUKEGAN, Ill. -- From the Blue Light special to a Blue Ribbon School. An old Kmart in north suburban Waukegan is being re-born as the home of an innovative Catholic prep school.

About 400 Cristo Rey College Prep students will start a new chapter in their educational stories inside of an old store.

The school was doing remarkable things; giving opportunities to low income families and sending 100 percent of students to college, but the building itself was crumbling.

“(It had) leaky pipes, ceilings that fall down overflowing sewers, power outages, the boiler going out,” Preston Kendall, school president said .  “And yet in that environment our kids have found a way to excel.”

Kendal led a $17 million fundraising campaign to find a new home.  Some “out of the box” thinking brought them to the abandoned Kmart on Belvidere Road.

Tuesday, students will move in to the state of the art facility for the first time.

“It’s really an amazing space and tomorrow is going to be an amazing day,” Kendal said.

The 115,000 square foot school is only partially finished.  There are nearly 20 smart class rooms and three fully equipped science labs.

Waukegan is home to 15 percent of Lake County’s population, but nearly 75 percent of its poverty.

“Our school is dedicated exclusively to students who come from low-income families,” Kendal said.

Kendall says the new building is the start of a new era for Cristo Rey.

“We’re kind of proving that young people in this area have the potential, they just need to be given the right opportunity.”

Administrators say they hope to build a fine arts classrooms, a gym and a chapel in the near future.

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