The new school is coming. There was no question about that Tuesday night.
But for the large crowd that filled a room at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center Tuesday night, a big issue was what will happen to the community center once the long-awaited 5th Ward school is constructed in the historically Black community.
Four plans were presented, with designs on easel boards for people to inspect.
One of those plans keeps the current Fleetwood-Jourdain building, with the new 5th Ward school going close by.
That was the original idea, with the new school costing $40 million. Financing has already been approved by Evanston/Skokie School District 65, with the school going up on land already owned by the school system. No acquistion costs.
But the three other ideas, developed more recently, would have Fleetwood-Jourdain torn down, and replaced with a new community recreation facility. Those options, each with slightly different building locations, range from $32-$50 million, on top of the $40 million for the school.
The City of Evanston would have to pay those non-school costs, for land acquisition and rec center construction.
And as of now, the City has only committed to look into the idea.
Reaction from the dozen or so speakers was mixed.
Sekai Henry, who grew up in the 5th Ward, said the current Fleetwood-Jourdain building “should be considered a landmark” and not demolished.
Another speaker said “I need this center. The school should be somewhere else.”
But Jerome Summers said if the center is rebuilt, “it should be bigger and better,” like Robert Crown.
And Delores Holmes, former 5th Ward alder for 12 years, said “there’s no reason why we can’t have a new building for Fleetwood-Jourdain and a new school as well.”
“The landmark,” she said, should be the old Foster School, the formerly all-Black school that now houses the Family Focus social services agency.
Foster closed as a neighborhood school nearly half-a-century ago as Evanston schools were desegregated.
Since then, as one speaker put it, “our students here in the 5th Ward have been itinerant, migrant students going all over the city” due to busing.
Gwen Braxton, a 5th Ward resident, told Evanston Now that “it’s important to have a school the kids can walk to.”
Making all District 65 schools walkable is part of the student reassignment plan incorporating the new 5th Ward school.
Mayor Daniel Biss told the 5th Ward residents that while the Board of Education is moving forward with the school, no decision has yet been made about a new Fleetwood-Jourdain center.
“We, the city, would be on the hook for a significant amount of money,” the mayor said, “an as-yet unobligated amount.”
The cost of a new rec center could be reduced, Superintendent Devon Horton told Evanston Now, if an $18 million community swimming pool is eliminated. Horton was not advocating for that, only explaining some of the finances.
The construction timetable is somewhat vague, for whatever is done.
A representative of the design firm Cordigan Clark said work for the new school should start next summer, with opening targeted for fall, 2025. However, Student Assignment Manager Sarita Smith had previously stated the goal is 18-24 months after construction begins, without promising a specific date.
Alex Lopez, architect and lead designer for the 5th Ward school, told Evanston Now that the end result could be one of the four options presented at the meeting, a hybrid of those ideas, or something completely different. The purpose here was to get the discussion going.
And that it did.
Some speakers noted a long-standing mistrust by 5th Ward residents in both the City and in District 65.
“You guys,” said Donna Walker to the school and government leaders, “don’t care what we want.”
Superintendent Horton said “I understand the passion and distrust, but the only way to get through this is to give us a chance.”
Horton said District 65, the City, and Family Focus are working together for the best possible outcome.
“We cannot,” he said, “be afraid of change. We are doing this with the students at the center.”
City seeks feedback on project
The city Wednesday afternoon issued a news release seeking comments from residents on the proposed site concepts for the school and the future of the Fleetwood-Jourdain center.
The deadline for responding to the survey is 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15.