Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep

Location: Waukegan, Illinois

Project Description & Impact: Real estate project involving the adaptive reuse of a former K-Mart-anchored shopping center to create a modern college prep high school serving low-income students in Waukegan, Illinois.

Client: Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep (QALICB, Leverage Lender)

Financing Tools Used: $18.5 MM New Markets Tax Credit financing


The Story Behind this Project

The city of Waukegan represents only 15% of the population of Lake County, IL, yet it is home to 75% of the poverty. With only 24% of high school students considered “college ready,” the community’s education challenges have been great. This is where Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep (CRSM) has played a crucial role.

In 2004, CRSM became the first Catholic high school to open in 50 years in Lake County with just 95 students. It exclusively serves families with limited financial resources; the average family income of enrolled students is $38,277. CRSM’s success rate is evident by the fact that $25.7 million in college scholarships were awarded to the Class of 2017, and an impressive 98 percent of students were accepted to bachelor’s programs to campuses around the country.

Back around 2012 the school embarked on a plan to increase enrollment from 240 to over 400. To accomplish this, they would outgrow their leased space in a dilapidated former grade school on a two-acre property comprised of less than 30,000 square feet.

Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen represented CRSM in connection with $18.5 million NMTC financing, allowing the school to transform a once vacant K-Mart big-box into their new facility. The project – led by JGMA architects and the McShane Construction Company – was completed in February 2018. The renovated and reimagined building now features 18 classrooms, three science laboratories, administrative offices, a cafeteria and a library commons area. The school occupies 53,000 square feet, or roughly half of the vacant retail complex. Future phases are likely to add more laboratories, fine arts facilities, a gym, chapel and additional athletic amenities.

With its new, enlarged home located along a well-traveled road, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep is seen as a “gateway of hope” for the City of Waukegan.