The new therapeutic riding arena is open at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), and organizers are ready to help all people enjoy the benefits of horseback riding.

A grand-opening ceremony was held in the arena on Feb. 25 in celebration of a project that broke ground in April 2017.

CHSAS Principal Bill Hook said he looks forward to seeing people take advantage of the new amenity.

“It’s great now. This is a beautiful barn,” Hook said. “It’s going to look even better in a short time when we start the riding program.”

According to Hook, the arena cost $1.8 million and was funded by the school with some help from others.

The 164-by-80-foot facility will be used by CHSAS students in the general population and special-education programs, other Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, first responders and members of the community.

Hook said the idea for the barn started seven years ago. He wasn’t sure it would come to fruition, but he is grateful that the school was able to save money and roll funds over from previous school years in order to finance the project.

The school also received $100,000 to support construction after teacher Maggie Kendall won the Farmers Insurance “Thank a Million Teachers” nationwide contest in 2014.

Hook expressed pride in opening the facility to serve the community.

“I cannot be more grateful than to be standing in this barn right now,” Hook said, adding that the barn is the only one of its kind in the city. “We want to serve all constituents within the city of Chicago.”

Shane Blake, a 23-year-old Mt. Greenwood resident, attended CHSAS and Southside Occupational Academy, a vocational school for students with special needs.

He now works at CHSAS, cleaning the barn and caring for animals, and he said the school is special.

“I love working and being up here at the barn. It makes me feel very happy,” Blake said. “Maybe some day I will have my own farm.”

The CHSAS FFA hosted the grand opening, with CHSAS Local School Council Chair Tim O’Brien, Special Olympics Coordinator Pam Munizzi, CPS CEO Janice Jackson and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea in attendance along with Eli’s Cheesecake President Marc Schulman, who is co-chair of the CHSAS Business Advisory Council, and several families of young people with special needs.

O’Brien, also a CHSAS parent, said he once called the school “the hidden gem of the Southwest Side”—except it is no longer hidden. The status of the arena’s construction was discussed at every LSC meeting, he said, and its members are thrilled that it has opened for students.

“Now that we’re here, students, FFA members,” O’Brien said, “I want you to know that this is going to be another part of the gem that’s here on the Southwest Side.”

O’Shea said people with special needs or dealing with traumatic issues deserve the new facility.

“This will be a home for them. This will be a place for them to come,” he said. “I look forward to schools all across our great city utilizing this space.”

Jackson praised Hook for being persistent in getting the arena built and improving other CHSAS amenities.

She said the school is one of the best in the city, and she’s eager to promote the arena.

“We’re very excited about the utility of this facility,” Jackson said, “and I can’t wait to go and talk to other principals throughout the city to let them know about this wonderful facility that’s here for their use.”

Members of the Chicago Police Department Mounted Unit attended the opening, and Hook said the CHSAS horses will be arriving soon.

In celebrating the opening, Hook and Schulman referenced a quote that Schulman recites at the end of every meeting of the school’s business advisory council.

“It’s another great day for the Ag School.”