Abandoned Department Store in Illinois Transformed into a High School Campus 

The Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep (CRSM), a member of the national network of Cristo Rey schools, is a new high school campus as progressive as its students. As their current facility no longer meets the basic needs of their students, CRSM looked towards their neighbor, an abandoned department store, to become their new home. CRSM selected JGMA to complete the renovation and construction assignment for its new high school campus in Waukegan, Illinois.


Photo credit: McShane Photography / JGMA

The renovation and construction assignment of Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep required the comprehensive transformation of an abandoned big box store into a contemporary educational facility serving over 400 students. The former building structure had no identity and no physical or emotional connection to the community. The design-build team’s challenge was to break down those barriers and develop an innovative design that would inspire the students, faculty, administration, and community.


Photo credit: McShane Photography / JGMA

The expectation of CRSM students is already elevated to that of a college student; therefore, they deserve a facility that emulates this. The new facility strives to match CRSM’s innovative pedagogy, giving students the high-quality campus they deserve.


Photo credit: Dimitre Photography Inc.

Looking past the stigma of a big box retail store, the tall volume, open floor plan, and northern wetlands become immense opportunities in the transformation of the perceived eye-sore into a beacon for CRSM. In order to make the deep floor plan suitable for a learning facility, daylight must be integrated into all learning spaces, which is accomplished by slicing the building with sawtooth light monitors and skylights that extend the limited building perimeter.


Photo credit: Dimitre Photography Inc.

The original concrete floors were polished and stained to reflect additional light, while their vibrant colors warm the space. The school’s desire to have an open and transparent pedagogy resulted in a full-height wall of glazing in each classroom.


Photo credit: Dimitre Photography Inc.

The facade proudly showcases the school’s identity along the major thoroughfare of Belvidere Road, as its tones reflect a gradient of CRSM’s school colors. The southern site development aims to deteriorate the existing sea of concrete, providing the community with a glimpse of what lies hidden behind the existing building to the north: a serene natural wetland. Rather than tucking the athletic fields in the rear of the school, the new facility showcases them. The 55,000 square foot build-out incorporates 18 classrooms, three science laboratories, offices, and a cafeteria. It also features a library commons area for students, with a new HVAC system controlled by web-based building automation technology.


Photo credit: Dimitre Photography Inc.


Photo credit: McShane Photography

About JGMA

JGMA is a progressive architecture and design practice committed to active community involvement and the enrichment of peoples’ lives through the attentive and dynamic organization of space and materiality. The firm understands that quality design has a unique ability to influence civic life and transform communities.

JGMA proudly considers itself an innovator in the field of architecture, and the firm is dedicated to formulating consistently unique solutions to every design opportunity. Their work is conceptually driven, but exhibits the highest level of quality at every stage of design, construction, and occupancy.

JGMA is led by the firm’s president, Juan Gabriel Moreno, and is supported by a talented team of experienced architectural professionals. While cultivating the aforementioned ideals, and after struggling within other firms to realize them, Mr. Moreno was compelled to strike out on his own to pursue them. Founded in 2010, JGMA was built on a groundwork that champions comprehensive investment in ideas and ideals.