Evanston city staff told council members Monday night that the city needs to go its own way in developing plans for a new or expanded Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center.

City Engineer Lara Biggs said School District 65’s timeline for starting construction of its planned new 5th Ward school on Foster Field is too compressed for the city to be able to fully coordinate with it on plans for a new rec center.

She recommended that the city amend its existing memorandum of understanding with the school district, hire its own consultant to plan, design and oversee any recreation-center related improvements and expand the public engagement process to get a fuller understanding of what residents want from a recreation center.

Last summer the city embarked on a process to try to coordinate the rec center plans with the new school project — in hopes that the two entities might be able to share some facilities.

But Biggs said it has turned out to be very difficult to find a way to share facilities because, for the most part, “both parties need to use the same space at the same time.”

The new school’s opening has already been delayed until 2025, a year later than the district’s original target, and the clock is ticking on the district’s financing plan for the school — which calls for paying for the building from savings the district hopes to achieve by busing fewer students once the new school is open.

A diagram showing an option for building the school without moving the recreation center. (City of Evanston)

The school and its parking lot could simply be built on the Foster Field property that the school district owns without requiring relocation of the recreation center.

But Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said the neighborhood needs playing fields for sports and is already short on parking — so he doesn’t view that solution as satisfactory.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said the estimated cost for a new recreation center — up to $50 million if it includes a swimming pool — is “pretty staggering.”

But Burns said discussions about expanding Fleetwood have been underway for some time and $24 million for the project is included in the plan for what to do with revenue the city is expected to derive from the new Five Fifths tax increment financing district.

Mayor Daniel Biss said that because of the small response to a recent community survey about the project he doesn’t think public preferences for the project are clear — especially about the need for field space.

Some options considered for the project have included acquiring property along the former Mayfair rail line, more recently used as a paved storage area for new cars.

That area is at the lower left of the photo at the top of the story and would provide a potential location for a new recreation center that would face Emerson Street.

If the existing Fleetwood Center were then demolished, the land it is now on could become a new play field that would be adjacent to the new school.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m glad to see that the city isn’t bending to District 65’s timetable for now.

    Of course we don’t need a new school. But assuming we did, a much better solution would have been to arrange for the District to take over the Civic Center and have the city offices move downtown.

    The Civic Center is in the 5th Ward and there is a massive park behind it that could be repurposed for athletics without significant disruptions to the tree canopy.

    One thing that strikes me from the graphic is the insane amount of parking they are proposing for this new school. 95 spaces? How many people work at a school? Dewey and Lincoln are both located in dense urban neighborhoods and neither of them have 95 spaces!

    One possibility could be to build less parking and the District could work with the First Church of God or Double Clutch to lease parking.

    If the Ward really wants a school, they can’t keep the open space at the same level.

  2. The legal documents governing the lease certificates state that the building has to be used primarily for educational purposes, so I am not sure how a rec center would fit into that. Has anyone (City or D65) issued a legal opinion on this point? Furthermore, I haven’t heard anyone address how to maintain good security for a school/rec center campus. It is good practice to keep school grounds for parents, teachers and students only. Does anyone want random people hanging out at or adjacent to K-8 school?

  3. It would be short sighted NOT to build a community pool in the Foster Field area. From many vantage points – equity, safety, long term health benefits – swimming is an important skill and a learn to swim program in essential. Evanston is the only community in the area that does not have a public pool. There are plenty of open lots in the neighborhood near Foster Field for the city to buy, since we are now in the business of purchasing property all over town; 5th ward school staff will need parking anyhow, while a pool would be in heavy use during non-school hours. Additionally, the area is easily accessed by walking or riding a bike, which Evanston is hugely supportive of. I am baffled by the lack of the usual loud voices on this matter, as this seems like a no brainer.

  4. I think part of the reason for lack of response on the survey had to do with all of the options to choose from showing a new school, while many people in Evanston don’t think a new school should be built at this time. Why would we fill out a survey in which none of the options presented reflect what we want? Building a new school at a time when we’re declining in enrollment and our existing schools are in disrepair is not a fiscally responsible thing to do.

    Furthermore, the school district claims they will be “paying for the building from savings the district hopes to achieve by busing fewer students once the new school is open.” But did anyone else notice in all of the plans presented at that meeting, that there are five yellow school buses in front of the new 5th Ward school in each one of them? That’s a lot of school buses for a school that is being presented as eliminating the need for busing. So how is the district actually planning on paying for the new school when busing and the costs of it don’t actually end up decreasing?

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