CRSM Receives Prestigious Driehaus Award for Innovative Kmart Transformation

Cristo Rey St. Martin is honored to be named one of nine top-winning preservation projects in the state by the 2021 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards.

The adaptive reuse award honors CRSM for converting and transforming the empty Kmart into a thriving, innovative high school – and bringing activity back to the area that sat empty for so long!

“Our 2021 award-winning projects are models for what preservation can and should be: the creative, inclusive and sustainable reuse of our built environment promoting local job creation and community driven economic development,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “The courageous and visionary people behind these innovative projects deserve recognition for transforming places to serve as equitable housing, accessible art and education centers, and lively gathering spaces that bring awareness to Illinois’ diverse history.”

Architecture firm JGMA led the innovative project to transform the long-vacant former Kmart store into a vibrant campus for Cristo Rey.

“This place is important to me because this is a predominantly Spanish speaking minority community that rarely sees investment,” said Preston Kendall, CRSM president. “It is also a community that feels the pain of violence, feels the pain of unemployment and feels the pain of low wages. This project gives the youth, which is the future, the opportunity to gain knowledge. And as we know, knowledge is power. It provides them with the opportunity to receive higher education as well as exposure to corporate America.”

By reusing this building, Cristo Rey eliminated a barrier to equity by tackling disparities in educational options and provided opportunities to pursue post-secondary education,” said McDonald.

The project is also a successful example of an adaptive reuse project at a former big box store as retail vacancy is becoming an issue in many suburban communities across the United States. In addition to that, it serves as inspiration for other schools in the Cristo Rey Network: The Philadelphia Cristo Rey school is moving into an abandoned tricycle factory and in Milwaukee, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School will convert a vacant grocery store.

The project symbolizes an expanded definition of preservation, one that is more equitable and inclusive, the Foundation wrote in the award announcement. It opens the door to the next preservation era where what a community values is recognized, where no building is overlooked for its reuse potential and where inclusion, equity and environmental sustainability are prioritized.

Instead of demolishing this building, the former Kmart now serves as a symbol of hope and investment in a predominately minority, low-income community where less than 10% of the population has earned a college degree. While a Kmart is not necessarily a notable landmark or historic building, it still has a history within that community.

The nine award-winning preservation projects and people who made them possible will be honored at an in-person & virtual ceremony the evening of October 22 at the historic Davis Theater in Chicago.

Other award winners include: Epiphany Center for the Arts in Chicago, Mercer County Carnegie Library in Aledo, Pullman Artspace Lofts in Chicago, Union Station, Well Pullman School, Nauvoo Historic Residences in Nauvoo, Tiger Senior Apartments in Paris, IL and Duncan Manor, in Towanda.

For the past 27 years, the Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards has honored individuals, organizations, projects, and programs whose work demonstrate a commitment to historic preservation. A generous grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation enables Landmarks Illinois to present awards annually in various categories. The awards ceremony is held each fall.

“This is also important to me because these are issues impacting the entire country,” said Kendall. “This subject matter has to do with equality, with rights, with suppression and with racism. These topics are important to me because it is through our architecture that we find ways to change the narrative and create change.”