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On Oct. 10, the District 65 School Board discussed 11 scenarios presented by administrators to manage the projected increases in student enrollment during the next five years. The 11 scenarios each combined multiple strategies, and sometimes layers of alternative strategies, to address the District’s projected need for additional space at five schools: Lincoln Elementary (4-6 classrooms), Lincolnwood Elementary (2-5 classrooms), Orrington Elementary (2-4 classrooms), Haven Middle (6 classrooms) and Nichols Middle (6-7 classrooms).

The Board eliminated a few of the scenarios, and, perhaps more significantly, eliminated some of the alternative strategies proposed in the scenarios.  Board members asked administrators to provide a more detailed analysis of the remaining scenarios and strategies. Richard Rykhus and other Board members asked for estimates of any anticipated increase in operating costs, any increase in capital costs, any increase or decrease in the number of students who would be bused, as well as other information to be able to compare the relative merits of each scenario.

Board president Katie Bailey said the purpose of this exercise was to consider all potential options before deciding whether to approve the New School Committee’s recommendation to establish a new school in the Fifth Ward west of Green Bay Road, referred to as the “central core.”

The Mix of Strategies

 The potential strategies to manage enrollment put on the table included changing Board policies, by such means as increasing class sizes, or using “cap and transfer;” adding classrooms to existing schools; restructuring the schools into grade K-3, 4-6 and 7-8 schools and other variations; converting the administration building into a K-5 school; converting King Lab (now a K-8 magnet school) into a K-5 or 6-8 attendance area school; leasing space from Evanston Township High School for middle-school students; and constructing a new K-5, K-8 or 6-8 school in the City’s “central core.”

Each scenario used a combination of these strategies to address the need for additional space in the District. For example, the strategy of building a new K-8 school in the central core is combined with the strategy of adding space at Lincoln and Nichols to provide a complete solution to the projected space needs.

The administration assessed each scenario in a general fashion using 12 criteria relating to finance, education and “social justice,” which takes into account the closing of Foster School, the burden of busing, and equity issues.

Board members eliminated using space at ETHS for a middle school as a viable option, citing safety, space and other concerns. They also eliminated the strategy of converting King Lab to a K-5 or middle- school attendance-area school in most of the scenarios. Andy Pigozzi said if the Board was going to ask the community to approve a new school in a referendum, the scenario to manage enrollment “has to be positive for everybody.”

Changing Board Policy

One scenario to address increased enrollment is to add classroom space to Lincoln School, and to manage enrollment without any other new construction by a) increasing class sizes; b) using  “cap and transfer,” under which enrollment is capped at each school and students are transferred once the cap is reached; c) moving special programs to different schools from year to year to provide space if needed; d) changing how elementary schools feed into the middle schools; and e) reducing the square footage required per student in the classrooms.

The Board asked administrators to illustrate how this scenario would play out in the next few years. They were asked to identify the schools that were projected to have overcrowding issues, to specify what they would recommend to address the overcrowding issues, assuming that building new space was not an option, and to state the impact, such as the increased average class sizes at certain schools, the programs that might be transferred from certain schools, the number of students impacted by cap and transfer at certain schools. 

As part of their general analysis, administrators said this scenario would create large class sizes, create crowded conditions in smaller classrooms, result in more discipline issues with crowded classrooms, require the use of more aids in classrooms, and likely require the use of “cap and transfer” and more busing. Administrators did not recommend this scenario because it is “not academically sound” and “will create hardships on families.”

Board members did not appear to support this scenario, but wanted the community to understand the implications of not taking proactive steps to address the projected increase in enrollment.

Reconfiguring Schools

A second scenario is to reconfigure the schools to be primary schools (K-3), intermediate schools (grades 4-6), and junior high schools (grades 7 and 8). This would, of course, require drawing new attendance areas for at least the primary and intermediate schools. 

Paul Brinson, consultant to the District, said this model would address all the District’s space needs without the need for any new construction. He explained that some schools have classrooms at a primary grade-level with an average of only 15 students and some have an average of 22 or more students. He said combining more primary classrooms into a school would allow the District to use existing classroom space more efficiently. “It’s a very economical model,” he said.

Tracy Quattrocki asked how this model would be able to handle a sudden increase in kindergarten enrollment at one of the primary schools. Mr. Brinson said it would be able to handle that better than the current K-5 model.

Mr. Brinson added that the model offers the potential for instructional improvement because the primary schools and intermediate schools would be able to focus their instruction. He said there would be equity around the District because every student would, at some point, likely be eligible for busing. “There is an inherent fairness to this model that does not distinguish any particular group for benefits,” administrators said in their general analysis. 

Some of the drawbacks listed by administrators include redistricting, additional busing, and a family’s children may attend three different schools in their K-8 experience.

The Board asked administrators to prepare a model that would illustrate how this reconfiguration would work, identifying the schools that would be primary schools, intermediate schools and junior high schools, mapping out their attendance area boundaries, and laying out the feeder path from primary schools to intermediate schools and to junior high schools. The Board also asked administrators to propose whether two, one or no magnet schools would be used under this model.

Several Board members expressed a preference that the modeling keep students in their current attendance-area school as either their primary school or intermediate school, and to keep students in their current middle school as their junior high school.

Reconfigure the Administration Building and King Lab

Another scenario is to convert the Joseph E. Hill administration building into a K-5 school and King Lab into an attendance-area middle school, which could then be used to address overcrowding issues at Haven and Nichols middle schools. Under this scenario, students at King Lab would return to their attendance-area schools. Space for central office administrators and the early childhood center would be purchased or leased in the Research Park.

Administrators said in their general analysis that this scenario would increase the operating budget by adding one school, would require capital expenses for renovations, would increase costs to secure space for administrative offices and early childhood education, and  result in the loss of a magnet school. They said, though, that this scenario would provide a “viable” and “complete” solution to address the District’s space needs.

Board members did not appear inclined to support this scenario. Kim Weaver, however, urged that the administration estimate the costs of renovating the administration building and of obtaining space in the Research Park, saying she thought the costs would demonstrate it was not a viable option.

Build Onto Existing Schools

A fourth scenario is to build additional classrooms at the schools that are projected to need additional classroom space: Lincoln, Lincolnwood, Orrington, Haven and Nichols.

Administrators concluded that this scenario, “does not meet the social justice standard,” (i.e., the lack of a neighborhood school in the central core, or a disproportionate burden of busing), but concluded, “it is a complete solution in so far that it addresses space concerns.” Board members asked administrators to estimate the costs of the anticipated additions.

Build/Establish a New School

Another set of scenarios is to build a new school in the central core. The options include a K-5 school with two classes per grade level, a K-5 school with three classes per grade level, a K-8 school with two classes per grade level, a K-8 school with three classes per grade level, and a middle school.

A K-5 school would address the space needs at Lincolnwood and Orrington, but the space needs at Lincoln, Haven and Nichols would likely need to be addressed by building additional classrooms at those schools.

A K-8 school would address the space needs at Lincolnwood, Orrington and Haven, but the space needs at Lincoln and Nichols would likely need to be addressed by building additional classrooms at those schools.

A middle school would address the space needs at Haven and Nichols, but the space needs at Lincoln, Lincolnwood, and Orrington might need to be addressed by building additional classrooms at those schools.

The Board asked administrators to analyze in more detail the five different possibilities for a new school, including to propose attendance boundaries for the various types and sizes of schools, to propose whether the schools would have mandatory attendance areas, to provide cost estimates for the various sizes of new schools, and to provide cost estimates of any additional construction needed to provide a complete answer to the projected space needs of the District.

Mr. Pigozzi raised a separate concern about increasing the size of the middle schools to more than 800 students. He asked the administration to explore whether additions to Haven or Nichols could be in a separate building, or in a campus like setting. The Board asked the administration to describe how it would address this issue.

Lease the Family Focus Building

The final scenario is to lease or purchase the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building (the old Foster School building) to establish a new school in the central core. Mr. Pigozzi said he thought the cost to convert the building to use as a school, meeting today’s standards, would be as much as the cost of building a new school. The Board asked administrators to explore the cost to rehab the building.

Next Steps

At its Oct. 24 meeting, the Board will consider additional information about the scenarios, as well as a report prepared by Mary Brown, chief financial officer, that illustrates that the District will likely need to proceed with a referendum in order to fund all of the capital projects, including life/safety projects, that are on the table.  In order to place a referendum question on the March 2012 ballot, the Board must approve the referendum question no later than Dec. 19, says Dr. Brown.

Mr. Brinson advised that Dr. John Kasarda and Valerie Kretchmer, both consultants to the District, have been asked to prepare updates and revisions to their 2010 enrollment projections and housing analysis reports and that their updated reports would be available within 30 days.

Eileen Budde asked that District 65 staff also update its enrollment projections. Mr. Brinson said that this would be done.

John Castellana, a principal of TMP Architects, presented a “preliminary report” that analyzed seven potential locations for a proposed new school in the central core: Foster Field, which is owned by District 65 (just north of the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus Building, the old Foster School building); the “Bishop Freeman property” (south of Foster, east of Dewey); a site in the Research Park (east of Oak and south of Emerson); property owned by District 65 along the North Shore Channel just north of the administration building; and three parcels along the North Shore Channel that are owned by MWRD: Twiggs Park, Butler Park and Beck Park.

TMP used two methods to evaluate the sites, one, an evaluation matrix developed by TMP, and the second an evaluation matrix developed by the Council of Education Facility Planners International, said Mr. Castellana.

Foster Field was rated the top site under each evaluation method, with the property owned by District 65 along the North Shore Channel ranked second. In its preliminary report, TMP said the location of Foster Field “is excellent being central to the intended attendance area, good accessible traffic routes, and potential to utilize adjacent parcels for parking.” TMP added, “The size of the site is adequate for a three-story new K-8 school for 700 students,” and, being adjacent to Fleetwood Jourdain, “there is potential for shared program uses.” TMP noted the softball field may need to be relocated.

TMP said Butler Park and Beck Park scored “fairly high,” but they are not owned by the District and are located at the extreme borders of the proposed attendance area.

TMP recommended that Foster Field and the site owned by the District along the channel continue to be studied and evaluated with a series of more definitive concept planning options.

Many Board members said they thought Foster Field was the preferred site, but acknowledged a concern about the loss of green space if a school were built at that site. Board president Katie Bailey asked the administration to provide a more detailed analysis about the loss of green space, what type of resources could be shared with the City at that site, for a more detailed analysis on available parking, and a proposal on whether a sports field could be created on property owned by District 65 along the North Shore Channel to make up for the potential loss of a field or part of a field at Foster Field.

Ms. Bailey also asked the administration to explore whether the parcels owned by MWRD were feasible sites from a timing perspective, by asking MWRD how long it would take them to decide whether to sell their land to District 65.

Board member Kim Weaver asked the administration to determine whether the Bishop Freeman property was available, or whether it was committed to the “Emerson Square” project that the City was pursuing for a mixed-use housing development. Mr. Castellana said if the property were available, it would need to be reviewed for potential environmental issues.

The administration is expected to report back to the Board on these issues at the Oct. 24 meeting.

In addition to analyzing potential sites, TMP provided estimates to construct various school configurations:

K-8 School for 700 students: $25.9 million

K-8 School for700 students, without a dining facility: $23.2 million

K-8 School for 500 students: $21.9 million

K-5 School for 500 students: $17.1 million

K-5 School for 350 students: $14.8 million

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...