Skip to content
CityLab
Design

Blue Light Special: The Chicago-Area High School in an Old Kmart

In the suburb of Waukegan, Illinois, the design firm JGMA has turned an abandoned Kmart into a bright new home for Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep.
With a tight budget, the architects used glass and paint to transform the store into a well-lit, colorful high school.
With a tight budget, the architects used glass and paint to transform the store into a well-lit, colorful high school. Brian Fritz Photography

Belvidere Road is an unremarkable stretch of suburbia in Waukegan, Ill., north of Chicago, lined with highway-sign staples: gas stations, car washes, fast-food joints, and a low-rent motel.

It was only after a previous deal to move his private high school into a converted office building fell through that Preston Kendall came up with the idea to slide into the abandoned Kmart here. Kendall saw the former store as a potential new home for Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, which serves nearly 400 low-income, mostly minority students.