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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