This was the artist's rendering of the school presented in February.

“A 55-year journey.”

That’s how District 65 superintendent Devon Horton described the long-awaited move to return a school to Evanston’s 5th Ward.

And on Saturday morning, in the heart of the ward itself at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, the latest site plan for the $40 million dollar building was presented at a community meeting.

“We have some bells and whistles we want to share with you,” Horton said.

The four-story, K-8 building itself will be “L” shaped.

5th Ward School site plan. School is in purple. Parking spaces are to the left of the school. Fleetwood-Jourdain Center is in brown, above parking lot.

One major neighborhood concern was if the new structure would wipe out trees, athletic fields, and other green space in what is being called the Foster Park Campus.

District 65 superintendent Devon Horton addresses community meeting about 5th Ward School site plan.

“Green space is not going away,” Horton said, “There will be green space.”

However, a comparison of the new plan with aerial views of space as it exists now suggests that the amount of green space will be cut roughly in half.

An aerial view of Foster Field and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center. (Google Maps image)

But project architect Alex Lopez, of the firm Cordogan Clark, said, “The overall quality of the green space will be improved.”

For example, the new soccer/football field will use artificial turf, similar to what’s now in place at the Robert Crown Center. Such turf allows year-round, all weather usage.

While eight trees will have to be taken down, Lopez said more trees will be added, for a net gain of more than 20.

Plus, he said a relocated playground will be “nestled between” some of those trees, not far from the Family Focus building.

A basketball court will also be relocated an area close to Foster Street between the Family Focus and Fleetwood-Jourdain buildings.

One of the most freqently-mentioned concerns is the lack of parking at Fleetwood-Jourdain, where there are only 24 spaces.

The new school site has 83 spaces, plus about 30 drop-off/pick-up spaces for the start and end of the school day.

There were several questions and comments from the audience of about three dozen people.

Retired educator Linda Johnson questioned the proposed look of the 5th Ward School.

Linda Johnson, a former principal at Orrington Elementary, said the proposed 900-student-capacity building “looks like a jail. It’s too long and straight and not welcoming at all.”

Architect Lopez said the structure, of masonry, glass, and architectural metal, “is respectful to the community but will also move the 5th Ward ahead.”

Architect Alex Lopez.

Other questions centered on how environmentally sound the new building will be.

Officials said the intent is to make the structure as “green” as possible, with solar panels, high-efficiency HVAC, and the goal of LEED certification.

However, officials said constructing the school with full Platinum LEED certification in mind, the highest environmental rating, would add $10 million to the cost.

The district’s Chief Financial Officer, Raphael Obafemi, said “it’s a balancing act. We are trying to do the best we can with the resources we have.”

The new school is being financed through what’s called “lease certificates” rather than a property tax increase that would have required voter approval.

District 65 leaders say the borrowed money will be paid back through savings by significantly reducing busing when the district shifts to attendance boundaries where most children can walk to school.

Just before interest rates started to skyrocket, the school system was able to lock in a 3.4% rate for the 18-year payback period of the lease certificates.

Target date for opening now is Fall 2025. That target date is year later than the district had originally proposed. The delay in large part was a result of discussion with the city about combining the school project with a new recreation center.

The complexity, cost and delays involved in a combined project brought those talks to a halt last month.

It’s still possible the school building design could end up somewhat different than what was displayed at Saturday’s meeting.

Lopez said they’re already on “artist’s rendering number 27,” and changes are possible.

But Superintendent Horton said any changes can’t get in the way of getting the school ready for its targeted opening date.

“We cannot keep moving the goalposts,” he said.

There will be two other community meetings to discuss the site plan, one on Tuesday, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Fleetwood-Jourdain, the other on Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

In addition, during the summer, Cordogan Clark will hold a session for minority-owned contractors interested in bidding to work on the school project.

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

Join the Conversation


  1. The Boondoggle just got bigger.

    I wonder how long it will take before our elected representatives inform us that the magical “lease certificates” didn’t work and they are going to have to jack up taxes to pay for this completely unnecessary and ridiculously expensive school in a District where attenance numbers are dropping like a rock.

  2. Let’s get honest…petrochemical plastic grass is an IMPERVIOUS surface, not matter what the contractor says, so designated by the US EPA and states. It does not sequester carbon nor produce oxygen. It does not filter water. It off gasses methane and ethylene. It leaches toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, like PFAS, heavy metals and more. It will create a massive heat island. Let’s dissect the EIR.

  3. Plastic fake grass carpeting is NOT “green space” just because the plastic is colored green ! More akin to a parking lot surface (and gets as hard as that in a few years). It is even hotter than asphalt!!

  4. Let’s paint the parking lot green and then we can call that additional green space too! Not to say that plastic sports turf does not offer some usage benefits as well as drawbacks, but it is a total farce to be paying big $$$$ to be seeking LEED certification (and maybe ‘Platinum LEED’) while also planning for plastic ground cover that emits carbon, has a ‘urban heat island’ effect, was created from fossil fuels, and may not be recyclable except in theory. A mockery of a sham! You can’t please everyone but is this design really what the majority of this neighborhood wants instead of the current community center’s athletic green space?

  5. My comment was correctly reported. However, I went on to suggest that the long arm of the school be brought down to form a rectangle-shaped building around an open courtyard. The courtyard provides a safe space for the school garden, for an outdoor classroom and for quiet study nooks, while still providing natural light to the classrooms. The building’s shape wraps around the students and staff and focuses attention on the work going on inside and on the formation of a community. The rectangle also allows faster movement from one area to another. When a teacher calls for an administrator or the social worker or the health clerk, time can be important. Children will be in this setting for most of their waking hours. The building must feel more like a welcoming home – warm and snug and nurturing – and a lot less like an institution. It is my hope that teachers and principals will be invited to give their ideas and counsel. This entire project came about because the desire for the school, but the school seems lost in the discussion.

  6. Not sure how reducing actual, organic, living green space in the 5th Ward is at all aligned to the District’s equity goals. What a joke.

  7. Access to REAL green space (not astro-turf) is one of the many significant social determinants of health for children. Dr. Horton & team (D65 Administration & Board of Ed) are failing to see that this is about more than just a building; a physical structure. The 5th Ward and the kids that will end up going to school in this new school, deserve to have a team that is able to plan, organize, and implement on a comprehensive plan. A team that is transparent with its community (e.g., answering questions like what the payment structure/scheme for this new school truly looks like? Will other schools be shut down? How will other schools be repaired/updated?) and willing to take the time to get this right. What the 5th Ward residents/kids attending this new school do NOT need is a team that can only (blindly) focus on breaking ground as fast as possible and nothing else. Like others have said before, what’s next? Spray painting the parking lot green and touting that as green space for kids to access/play on? This is truly unreal. Unreal.

  8. Designs for a school we don’t need that actually increases segregation in the community when other existing schools are in need of repair and have capacity. In the long run, this won’t be good for the community Horton professes to represent. It’s all about him and the incompetent school board that are trying their best to degrade our educational institutions. I’m glad my kids are out.

  9. As a town, if we care about our green space, we should start by taking care of what we have. Take a walk through the green space at any D65 school and you will find a forest of weeds, mud, ankle breaking holes, trash, rocks and concrete. These spaces are unkept and unsafe for kids playing sports at recess or gym class.

    1. Go walk by Dewey, they do a great job with their green space. It’s perfectly safe. Their soccer field is awesome. They have a garden that well kept. They do an amazing job with their green space.

  10. All the foolishness of the proposal in relationship to rapidly declining enrollment, gentrification concerns and capital improvement needs for existing buildings aside, the design of this building is very poor. The idea to combine this school with the former Bessie Rhodes program seems to be a very poor judgment. It necessitates a much larger building, both in height and mass, than is appropriate for the location, and it negates the entire concept of eliminating busing.

    1. Don’t worry, they will complete the Board’s revenge tour on the NW side and close Willard by 2030. Their comical utilization report is already setting the stage.

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