District 65 Curriculum and Policy Committee on Monday.

Once upon a time, the proposed new 5th Ward School in District 65 was supposed to cost $40 million, be financed by savings in bus transportation, serve students in grades K-8, be a home for the Bessie Rhodes magnet program, and open in the fall of 2024.

Now a massive cost overrun has led the board to scale back the project to a smaller, K-5 building.

And Interim Superintendent Angel Turner says her staff is surveying teachers and other employees at Bessie Rhodes and at Washington Elementary about “what works well in both primary and intermediate classrooms, libraries, physical education, and common spaces,” as well as the “challenges in their current spaces.”

Turner told a school board committee Monday night that their input will help determine what will go inside the 5th Ward building.

“We believe this insight is valuable and will help our team prioritize ideas for the overall design plan,” Turner said, as long as those ideas fit the “site and budget constraints” now confronting the project.

The survey has now been sent to the staffers at both schools, who will have two weeks to reply.

Turner, who was named interim captain just before the proposed new school hit the financial iceberg, broke the news of the titanic $25 million cost overrun to the board last month.

Previous Superintendent Devon Horton and Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi, who pushed the now-discredited financing scheme, had jumped ship for other jobs.

School will be reduced from three floors to two as part of slicing the cost overrun.

Turner said that while she values the opinions of all district teachers and other employees, she decided on surveying the staff at Rhodes and at Washington as representative of the school system. Plus, both are schools which have two sections of the bilingual TWI program.

Turner also presented a tentative schedule for upcoming 5th Ward School decisions.

While the school board agreed in principle last month to downsize the school from K-8 to K-5, in order to cut the price tag from $65 million to $46.3 million, there still needs to be an official vote to move forward on the final design.

Turner targets that action for Jan. 22, with demolition, foundation and construction bids to follow.

Assuming no more delays, the anticipated opening for the 5th Ward School will be Fall 2026.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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