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Roycemore plans move to pension board site

Roycemore School officials say they plan to relocate to the Methodist pension board building at 1200 Davis St. in Evanston.

Pension Board HQ

The Methodist pension board building

The school delivered notices to neighbors around the new site this morning announcing a community meeting about the plans to be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8, at the pension board building.

Roycemore has been in its current building at 640 Lincoln St. since its founding in 1915, but needs a new home because Northwestern University does not plan to renew the school’s 99 year lease on the property.

Roycemore board chairman Tom Ellis says school officials have a purchase and sale agreement with the Methodist group and want to meet with neighbors to solicit their input about the school’s use of the property on the southwest corner of Davis Street and Ridge Avenue.

"We want to be very respectful of the neighbors and the neighborhood," Ellis said.

The building was constructed for the pension board in 1961 and designed by the Chicago architectural firm Perkins and Will.

School headmaster Joe Becker says that, given the time required to win city approvals and renovate the property, he anticipates the school will remain in its current building "for at least three school years."

The new site is significantly larger than Roycemore’s current quarters — 74,000 square feet of building space on nearly 2.5 acres, compared to 42,000 square feet on 1.4 acres.

Ellis said the school will need to do substantial renovation work to convert the pension board offices for classroom use.

"There are stricter life-safety issues when it comes to children," Ellis said, which will complicate the process.

He said the school doesn’t intend to touch the exterior of the building except to spruce it up to bring it to a like-new condition.

He said he wants to talk to neighbors before considering any possible expansion or new construction on the site.

He said the building is well suited for Roycemore’s use, with three separate wings, that mirror the division of the pre-K through 12th grade school into age groupings.

Becker said he would very much like to be able to add a gymnasium to the property, "but we don’t want to make any assumptions about what we can or should do until we’ve heard what the neighbors’ issues, concerns and observations might be."

He said he believes that traffic generated by the school should be about the same as what’s created by the pension board now.

He said the school has various programs starting and ending at different times through the day so the traffic is spread across the day.

He said the property has enough open space for "a modest playing field" but that it’s not big enough for major sports activities. He said the school is likely to keep playing its soccer games at James Park in southwest Evanston.

Roycemore has about 250 students and its noted for its small class size and individualized instruction.

In a letter to parents Monday school officials said the new location will allow the school to continue "our long and proud tradition as part of Evanston," will provide easy access to public transportation for students traveling from Chicago and other suburbs and will let the school maintain its close partnerships with Northwestern.

Becker said the initial response from parents "has been very positive."

The pension board site, on the edge of Evanston’s downtown, is about a block away from District 65’s Dewey Elementary School.

The pension board announced last fall that it plans to move to a new site it has acquired in Glenview, taking with it about 300 jobs. The board also owns the former Rotary International headquarters on the northwest side of the Ridge and Davis intersection. That building is not involved in the Roycemore transaction.

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