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Board votes to move ahead with additions at Dewey and Willard

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted unanimously last night to move ahead with plans for relieving what they perceived to be potentially crowded conditions at Dewey and Willard elementary schools, but they could not agree on whether that would be enough to solve the district’s capacity problems without building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted unanimously last night to move ahead with plans for relieving what they perceived to be potentially crowded conditions at Dewey and Willard elementary schools, but they could not agree on whether that would be enough to solve the district’s capacity problems without building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

With Katie Bailey and Kim Weaver absent, the five remaining members of the board gave the district’s architects the goahead to develop plans for an estimated $4.2 million addition at Willard that would provide two new classrooms, and an estimated $3.2 million project at Dewey that would add three classrooms. Other schools need work, as well, but the staff contended that the expansion at Dewey and Willard could not wait for the construction of a new school that would not be ready for occupancy until the fall of 2012, assuming that the funding for it is approved in an April referendum.

Board President Keith Terry proposed the creation of a special task force that would consist of two board members plus some teachers and other members of the community, including representatives of the PTA Council. This group would consider not only the financial implications of spending $14 million for a new school, but also other alternatives. Some that have been suggested at this meeting and earlier discussions of the board have included leasing classrooms at the old Foster School, which now houses Family Focus, or at Evanston Township High School, which member Andrew Pigozzi said was once considered large enough to provide for 10,000 students, substantially more than are enrolled today. Leasing space in an old building, he said, “is the greenest thing you can do.”

The board last night pored over spreadsheets prepared by Paul Brinson, the district’s chief information officer, comparing the situation at Dewey and Willard school for the next five years under various scenarios and enrollment projections. At Willard, for example, enrollment is expected to grow from 424 this year to as much as 525 in 2014, without the relief provided by a new school. But if a new school were built, enrollment would reach only to 403 to 465. Similarly, Dewey, with enrollment of 446 today, could reach 557 by 2014 without a new school, but only 473 to 536 with the addition of a new school.

During the public comment period, a number of parents of children living in the Fifth Ward complained that there are no schools that their children can walk to in the Fifth Ward. They are all bused to other schools in the district. The board’s principal champion of a new school in the Fifth Ward, Jerome Summers, gave an impassioned plea to his colleagues “to do the right thing for the right reasons. We have the opportunity to show that we are, indeed, a lighthouse district.”

Expressing the most skepticism was Tracy Quattrocki, who said she is not convinced that adding classrooms to existing schools would not solve the problem without the additional expense of constructing a new school. The time for a decision is drawing nigh, as the Board must make its choice by December 13 if it is to place a referendum for the new school on the April ballot. Quattrocki expressed the hope that, even if they go ahead with the referendum at that time that they can withdraw the vote before the election if they determine that they can get along without the new school.

“Sometimes this board is accused of not listening to the community,” she said. “I just want to make sure that we are responsive to the community.”

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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