King Arts PTA president Jamie Wallace speaks at Wednesday's board committee meeting.

The head of the PTA at King Arts magnet school told District 65 school board members that while King has among the “greatest need” for repairs in the system, the work is being scheduled “behind other schools or is being value engineered to bare minimums.”

Jamie Wallace, the parent of two King Arts students, addressed the Personnel, Buildings & Grounds and Finance Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

Wallace said King Arts desperately needs a fence around the playground, because there is a “very active bike path” next to where school kids play, and bicyclists often ride right through the play site.

“We’re asking for the same boundaries that other schools have,” Wallace said.

She also stated that more work is needed for a coordinated traffic plan around the school.

King Arts building.

District 65’s Master Facilities Plan, which evaluated all 18 buildings, put King Arts third, with more than $15 million worth of work needed.

Another King Arts parent, Jodi Wickensheimer, said there is a “lack of clarity and transparency” on the part of the administration.

Wickensheimer, the mom of three King Arts students, said parents have been kept in the dark on things such as whether there will be summer school in the building this year.

Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi confirmed that a fence will be put up over the next few months, a project which had already been approved.

The improvements needed at King Arts are just part of the massive amount of rehab called for districtwide in the Master Facilities Plan.

When the plan was released last year, it outlined $189 million worth of work, to take 20 years.

Because of inflation, Obafemi indicated the costs are now higher … “$200 million and growing every day.”

“As we sit here right now,” he noted, “we don’t have $200 million, or anywhere close to it.”

He said that District 65 has allocated about $6 million a year for repairs from reserve funds, which can only do so much.

Refinancing bonds could bring in another $6 million this year and next, he added.

Of course, the board has to decide how much to spend on which building, and when.

Obafemi explained that “we’re trying to take advocacy out of it, and follow the recommendations of the architect.”

That way, there would be someone to “call the balls and strikes, an independent person.”

Board member Donna Wang Su sounded a similar note, saying repair decisions should not be based “just on who has the community which is the loudest and can show up” at board meetings. (Note: this appeared to be a general reference and not about the King Arts parents who attended this session).

Repairing so many aging schools is a challenge. The school board has already decided to close the Bessie Rhodes building, and move that program to the new 5th Ward school when it opens in 2025.

There is also at least the chance of other building closings, due to declining enrollment, although no decisions have been made there yet.

Obafemi said there does need to be a big picture analysis on doing repairs.

“We need to come up with a comprehensive approach,” he said.

The average District 65 school building is 77 years old, according to the Master Facilities Plan.

Actually, with that plan coming out a year ago, the average age is now 78.

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. Hahaha, OMG is that rich. Almost all the D65 schools are in serious disrepair and enrollment is plummeting and yet we decide to build yet another brand new school that we will still have to bus to where doing it with irresponsible financing and at a time with materials are 30% more expensive but when King Arts just wants a fence now we are going to start calling balls and strikes and decide to use sober judgment instead of just following the loudest people in the community…

    1. We didn’t decide, an activist school board and administration decided. The staff weren’t asking for this, we asked for better working conditions and buildings that don’t have water and rodent problems. The community as a whole voted against the 5th ward school by a tremendous margin, so the corrupt school board installed a radical activist to push through the 5th ward school anyway. That’s so wrong! And now Horton is leaving both his post and leaving us with a gigantic deficit for a building that’ll never be able to pay for its construction through “bus savings.” We can only hope he takes all the Hill center stooges with him.

  2. The 5th Ward School is going up, come hell or high water. But the $40 million they borrowed before having plans in hand will never be enough to finish the project and everything else will have to get in line behind it.

  3. Now it’s $200M? The Board has to decide on how it’s spending money and on what buildings? There needs to be a big picture analysis? Oh, you don’t say??! What in God’s green Earth have these people been doing over the last few years vis-a-vis the existing buildings? Glad to see such robust leadership, conversation, planning, and execution going on….maybe we need to hire a few more consultants to fake survey the community and come up with some more estimates, and ideas for the future??! What a joke….Well, at least King Arts families seem to be awake & asking some questions. Too bad they’re likely going to be ignored.

  4. The one piece of building improvements that I’m gobsmacked was not prioritized as part of the ESSER fund spending is HVAC improvements. The master facilities plan notes how extremely outdated those systems are at many schools (and how very expensive it would be to repair/replace) and the COVID funds specifically called out HVAC being a KEY use of the funds. And how much did the district spend on those improvements? $0.

    And HVAC/air flow improvements actually have shown to have a BIGGER impact on COVID spread (and other respiratory diseases) than mandating masks in schools. Why wasn’t this done? No idea. It wouldn’t have been able to cover everything certainly, but would have started to make a dent in the needed work. Although I think “only” $8 million of the $11 million D65 is set to receive has been spent, so maybe there’s still a chance….but not holding my breath.

  5. So where is the money actually going?! All of these schools are in dire need of repair and in 20 years they will not be standing. Good job Horton! You created this mess of a plan and then now you are out! What school are yall going to close next?!
    I would like to know where did the $6million get spent for the last two years…What improvements were made? What is really the problem. Take the $6million and prioritize to make building improvements to two or three schools a year. Compared to the surrounding suburbs our schools are in shambles.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *