School District 65’s revised plans for its new 5th Ward school will put the City of Evanston in violation of terms of a state grant it received in 2008 for improvements to Foster Field.

The grant was a major source of funding for a $1.1 million project to reconstruct tennis courts and a basketball court and other facilities at the field, property the city leased from the school district.

The state grant requires that the facilities it paid for remain in place for at least 20 years, or through 2028.

Now the school district plans to rip out the tennis and basketball facilities this fall to create an expanded parking lot for the new school that’s scheduled to open in 2025 and the district has canceled the city’s lease.

City staff say the city has received many grants from the Open Space and Land Acquisition and Development program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources over the past 20 years and staff considers it critical to maintain a good working relationship with the agency.

A staff memo from Senior Project Manager Stefanie Levine says the demolition of the park improvements will trigger a conversion clause in the grant agreement — requiring the city to purchase and develop new park property of an equal or greater value to replace the converted parkland.

And it won’t be able to use an OSLAD grant to pay for it.

The memo says the state agency is requiring the city to provide initial appraisals for consideration by May 19 and that staff is currently working with an appraisal company to do that.

A resolution scheduled for City Council adoption Monday night would commit the city to that process.

The staff memo doesn’t indicate what new parkland the city might acquire.

But a parcel of former Mayfair railroad right of way at the corner of Lake Street and Dodge Avenue is currently listed for sale. It adjoins former railbed to the north that the city has recently acquired for a planned expansion of Mason Park.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. More problems from this rushed and unnecessary school plan. The city needs to use its authority over building permits to delay this project at least until the grant commitment is satisfied.

  2. “Ready, Fire, Aim”

    This has uncovered a significant omission in planning.

    It appears that this whole project has been poorly conceived, and planned from the start.

    With the departure of the Superintendent, a review seems warranted.

    With the likelihood of interim leadership for a year, what is the impact ?

    What are the priorities and objectives?

    What is the budget?

    If short or long term expenses are higher, how is that expense justified and paid?

    If real estate taxes pay for any part of this, whose opinion counts?

    Homeowner, multi-family unit owner, renter?

    All equal voice?

    Do those who bear more of paying an increased tax burden have more sway?

    Who is in charge?

    The district or the mayor/council/manager?

    A higher up?

    Is there a higher up?

    It appears that the answer is nobody is in charge.

  3. I Hope and pray that District 65 can start to consider how revenues, grants, state funding and our current enrollment decline which is in a downward trend all come together as part and parcel of serious consideration when planning a major outlay for a new school. Pragmatism needs to be a part of the plan with an over arching fiscal responsibility to adhere to budgets and funds available. Evanston has to break the habit of creating runaway expenses without any accountability and adherence to budgetary constraints. Why are people leaving the school district??? Maybe it comes down to poor management and lack of oversight. And keep in mind that the state funding relies on enrollment numbers. With enrollment declining, funding will also decline while construction costs continue to rise. What is the back up plan for showing the community that you can be fiscally responsible?

    1. No one is allowed to ask questions about financial decisions, and everyone will suffer especially the kids and families the school is intended to serve.

  4. Those tennis courts are being used by the community. YES tennis provides tennis instruction to Family Focus and Fleetwood elementary school kids 3 days a week after school and also tennis instruction to the community on Saturday mornings all at the Fleetwood courts. It would be great if Evanston can replace both the outdoor basketball and the tennis courts at another location. The tennis courts are the only ones for the generally underserved
    5th ward.

  5. There are at least 10 properties with surface parking lots within 1000-feet of the new school property totaling over 300 parking spaces. These lots are unused or underutilized during school hours, including 3 churches, Family Focus, and a City managed lot. If Kindergarteners are expected to walk up to a mile to school, teachers and administrators can walk up to 2 blocks.

    Providing parking for the new walkable neighborhood school off-site would eliminate the need for the City to purchase additional land and develop a new park, allow the existing parking lot, tennis and basketball courts to be used by the 5th Ward School and the City, reduce District 65’s cost of constructing a new parking lot and providing the associated stormwater detention, and free up more of the undersized 3.2-acre site for green space/outdoor school play area. 

    1. Excellent, pragmatic points, Scott. Wish you were still an employee of Evanston but glad you and your family are still residents of Evanston. I hope our school and City officials heed your wise advice.

    2. You know what is only 1500 feet from this location?

      Another District 65 school, Kingsley.

      Declining enrollment means the last thing we need to be doing is building another school. If you want a “5th Ward School,” a much cheaper way would be to shift the current fifth ward boundary a couple hundred feet north to include Kingsley.

      Heck. Why not include the whole block and put Haven in the fifth ward as well?

      Problem solved.

  6. One day after Horton formally announces his resignation, we need to put plans for adding a new school to a district with rapidly shrinking attendance on hold… and make the guy we are already paying to be it’s principal do something useful for current students. Too bad the results of the recent election make this a bit unlkely.

  7. This is ridiculous. Several District 65 schools lack parking lots, or have small lots that hold around 10 cars, including Dewey, Orrington, Lincoln, and Dawes. Most school staff park on the streets. Why are we allowing District 65 to displace basketball and tennis courts in an underserved ward for this purpose? If additional parking is needed, the city can help D65 purchase nearby land. Teachers and staff can walk a block or two to prevent the loss of recreational facilities to the 5th Ward. At the very least, the city council should insist that replacement courts should be built near the existing ones, not next to Mason Park which already has basketball and tennis courts.

  8. I second Scott Magnum’s points.
    Suggest entrusted public officials take a similar businesslike approach and show responsibility with public funds.

  9. So many planners and yet ! Please Investigate if cancelling
    that $43 million new school building (should have gone on referendum) is
    more financially astute – no one has even YET mentioned the additional
    costs to all the taxpayers for filling that new building with salaries. I raised
    my daughter (and granddaughter) elsewhere so my concern about
    these two school districts is strictly financial.

  10. Echo Scott Mangum. Also, now that the horse has gone, will we close the barn doors so that we aren’t in this position again? What does the lease say about ability to cancel? What wording must the City insist on in future leases related to who bears the financial cost of early lease cancellation?

  11. I think the Fifth Ward school is a ridiculous waste of time.

    However, this was a bad move by the city initially to use money from a grant with these provisions on land that it didn’t own.

  12. Newly elected school board, please pay better attention and hire an excellent superintendent who doesn’t miss obvious points like this. Good grief.

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