The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted 6-0 Monday night to spend $117,500 for site improvements at Orrington Elementary School in north Evanston.

The action came swiftly with a minimum of discussion after an impassioned plea from the school’s principal, Renaud Beaudoin, who labeled the facility as “tired, weak, and sorely neglected.”

It was quite a contrast from a week earlier, when the board’s Finance Committee spent an hour deliberating the fate of the project when member Andy Pigozzi  urged the board to “draw a line in the sand” and reject the request on grounds that it was not sufficiently high on the priority list to consume limited taxpayer funds.

At last night’s Board meeting, Pigozzi voted “yes” with no additional comment.

And member Richard Rhykus, who said last week that he was disposed to reject the project, said last night that he had changed his mind.

“It’s pretty clear that the space at Orrington is not on a par with the rest of our schools,” he said.

Another factor board members cited in their decision to spend the money was that the parents and community had raised funds from private donations to help finance the upgrade and that Orrington has the smallest playground of any of the district’s facilities.

The project will add a curb cut and concrete ramps on the north side of the school and a sidewalk on the northeast side to accommodate garbage trucks, food delivery trucks, and other building deliveries that presently pull onto the playground while students are present.

In a memo to the board from the administration, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the space behind the school “is in poor condition. Grass does not grow there, which makes this area muddy or dusty.”

As one of the Orrington parents, Tom Mann, said during the public comment period: “The field is either a mud pit or a dust bowl. We want a safe playground and a level playing field, both literally and figuratively.”

Approving these projects, the superintendent wrote in the memo, “will provide Orrington School with a safer playground area, a usable playfield that students can use during outside gym class and recess, and an area of new asphalt that can accommodate a sport court to be purchased and donated by Orrington parents.”

Photo: Orrington playground “either a mud pit or a dust bowl.”

Related story:

Revised agenda puts spotlight on Orrington project

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Is the Lincolnwood principal making impassioned pleas?

    It sure would be nice if LIncolnwood's principal Fred Hunter could fight to get a promised addition in an overcrowded school that houses the district's emotionlly disabled students (ED).

  2. Some doing to get a principal to comment

    It is impressive that someone got the school principal to publicly comment on needs of the school property at a board meeting, since he or she is essentially telling his or her bosses how they should make their decisions.  Maybe the ability to do so depends on where the resitance to act is coming from.  Usually it is the school administration.  It sounds like it was from a board member in this case, which probably makes a big difference.

  3. No grass? Dust bowl? Mud pit? That’s Oakton’s “field”

    So a school gets $117K in part because the superintendent says that "[grass does not grow there, which makes this area muddy or dusty.”

    Take a look at Oakton Elementary School's "field" located on the central southern portion of the property:

    (1)  It is almost solid weeds with little actual grass anywhere in the "field."  It's mowed regularly so you can't tell from a distance but if left to grow, the "field" would like like an abandoned lot covered with weeds.

    (2)  A significant portion of the "field" is dusty dirt much of the year.  Unless it's wet out and then it's a mud patch. 

    So Oakton has a weed-choked patch that includes a huge mud pit or a dust bowl, depending on the moisture.  In a stiff wind, you can see the dirt flying around the field.  I've seen children scatter to leave the field when the wind picks up suddenly so they don't risk large amounts of dirt and dust in their eyes.

    So that's why I put "field" in quotes because I've never seen any school's playing field look quite so pathetic in terms of the type of ground cover and the huge expanse of open dirt. 

    Parents have been told that "nothing can be done" because the "field" would need to be out of service for an entire year so the children would have no field at all.  That sounds like total bunk to me but that's District 65's standard answer — can't be done.  Will Orrington have lush grass on its field in less than a year?  My money is on an answer of yes. 

    I don't begrudge them an improvement.  But if this project has set the standard for improving a playing "field" at an elementary school, Oakton Elementary should be next on the list for the same improvements.


    1. A major issue that

      A major issue that accompanies any improvement is maintenance.  Most of the Orrington field was sodded less than 5 years ago.  It was not maintained, at least in part due to heavy usage, and it returned quickly to the dust/mud combination that it is today. The $117K and private money gets the project done, but is there money/commitment to maintain the new and improved field and lot?

  4. Lincoln School Drainage Ditch Field

    Lincoln School doesn't have a field. Lincoln has a large retention pond ditch instead.  The new apartment buildings on Chicago Ave near Lincoln got an exemption.  No retention pond needed for a commercial building. Lincoln's "field" is muddy and unusable.  Did our alderman stick up for the safety of our children? "No comment." I'm impressed with the Orrington plan and proud of those dedicated parents who had a vision, made a plan, raised so much money, And worked through the District 65 bureaucracy.  Hard work pays off.

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