“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.