Architect Alex Lopez (R) discusses new 5th Ward School design on Thursday night at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

You can’t say they didn’t listen.

When artist’s renderings for the proposed 5th Ward school were released a couple of months ago, some of the reviews were underwhelming.

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

One neighbor said it looked like a jail. Others called for a more environmentally conscious structure. And parking was on just about everybody’s minds.

Well, on Thursday night, architect Alex Lopez came back with a new look, cutting what had been a four-story building down to three, and having more exterior masonry and less metal.

The changes went over well.

A rendering of the new school design presented Thursday night, as viewed from the cul-de-sac on Dewey Avenue.

“I think this building looks much better than the initial one,” said one person in the audience at a public meeting.

Others appreciated the goal of building the $40 million school as either silver or gold LEED certified, an evaluation of how many environmental features such as solar panels are built in.

Some in the crowd still wanted more, such as adding a “green roof” to the structure, basically a garden or small forest covering the top of the building.

Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi responded that “if money was no object we could do anything, but we have to make choices, so the green area on the roof has to go.”

At 3.2 acres, the footprint for the 5th Ward School will be the smallest in District 65, and, as with the previous design,will be “L”-shaped to fit onto the small parcel of land.

The planned new school is shown in blue on this site plan slide from the District 65 presentation..

There are 83 parking in the design, enough for the school’s staff, with a few spots left over. There will also be a dropoff zone where parents can bring their kids, as well as five electric vehicle charging stations.

Some neighbors were still concerned about parking and traffic congestion. City Engineer Lara Biggs said “that’s a very real challenge that needs to be worked out.”

The 5th Ward school will have room for about 900 students K-8, including the 250 from the Bessie Rhodes magnet school. The Rhodes students will move to the 5th Ward structure once it opens, with the Rhodes school put up for sale.

The city’s Land Use Commission has to pass judgment on the new design, and then send a recommendation on to City Council, which has final say on the zoning changes needed for the school.

The LUC is scheduled to take up the proposal on April 19, with a tentative City Council introduction on May 22, and a vote on June 12.

Assuming no hitches, the new school goes out for construction bids this November, and will open in time for the 2025-26 academic year.

Board President Sergio Hernandez said returning a school to the 5th Ward, which once had an all-Black neighborhood school, is “correcting an historic wrong.”

About 40-50 people attended the meeting, fewer than half the number who came to see the first design unveiled.

One person not at this meeting was Devon Horton, who was in Georgia for a different public session — his second town hall forum where he is being presented as the DeKalb County School District’s sole finalist for the superintendent’s position.

Horton spearheaded the effort to get the 5th Ward School approved by the District 65 board.

The look and design presented at this session might still change, particularly the interior.

“The floor plan,” Lopez said, “is about 35 percent cooked.”

And Biggs noted that different ideas, designs, and looks could be coming and might be implemented.

“This is all still lines on paper,” she said.

“Nothing is in the ground yet.”

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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1 Comment

  1. Much better design!! Kudos to the architect for listening. The previously unveiled design was…disappointing. And making it three stories instead of four is also a good move.

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