Plans for a new school in Evanston’s 5th Ward will be reviewed by the city’s Land Use Commission Wednesday night.

Because the Foster Field site is now zoned by the city for use as open space, the proposed building will require a number of major zoning variations.

The most substantial ones are to have a height of 55 feet and three stories where only 35 feet or two-and-a-half stories is allowed and to have a ratio of the floor area of the building to the square footage of the site of 0.62 where just 0.15 is allowed.

Other variations are to allow open parking within what the zoning code says is a front yard facing Foster Street and two variations related to the location and dimensions of the loading area.

Because most design aspects of school buildings are overseen by a state agency, many other considerations that would normally be part of the city’s review of a project are outside the city’s control in this case.

School District 65’s plans call for removing existing trees along Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue to provide for drop-off and pickup zones for buses and parents’ cars.

The district has proposed replacing those with rows of trees on either side of the planned artificial turf field behind the school building.

An aerial view showing the planned artificial turf playing field behind the school.

But a city staff memo to the Plan Commission suggests that trees next to the field “will create a turf maintenance challenge, since leaves and debris will need to be constantly removed.”

The memo suggests adding new trees off the school site but in the immediate vicinity instead.

Recent reports have indicated that the 5th Ward already has a substantially lower level of tree canopy that many other portions of the city.

A diagram showing traffic control measures planned for the school.

The plans included in the packet for the Land Use Committee meeting also include proposals for controlling traffic during the school day.

One other component is a proposal to have different school hours for students in the Bessie Rhodes magnet school and the neighborhood school that are to share the new building.

Bessie Rhodes schools would attend school from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., while neighborhood school students would be in classes from 9 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

Planned walk routes for the new school, showing traffic signals and crossing guard locations.

The Land Use Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council Chambers at the Civic Center.

The commission makes a recommendation to the City Council, which has final say on the zoning variation requests.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. How do the magnet school Bessie Rhodes students get to school from all over Evanston?

    1. Bessie Rhodes students will still have the option to be bussed to school. Families pay for bussing, around $500 an year, unless they qualify for free or reduced lunch. Then the district pays some or all of that cost.

      Depending on the new student assignment plan, District 65 may still need a lot of school buses. State law requires buses be provided if students have to cross major roads such as Chicago Avenue, Ridge, or Green Bay. Some of the new fifth ward school students may actually need to be offered free bussing since much of the fifth ward is on the south side of Emerson. I’m concerned that we won’t see very much of the projected cost savings that are being used to justify the cost of the new school.

  2. Original plans included artificial turf for playing field, playground, etc. Is that still in the plan? I am concerned about cancer and other drawbacks of artificial turf, like more injuries for athletes and much hotter than grass. Grass is much safer for our children.

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