On Oct. 24, the District 65 School Board continued its review of proposed scenarios to manage the projected increases in student enrollment during the next five years. Administrators presented additional information on nine scenarios, each of which combine multiple strategies to address the District’s projected needs for additional space at four schools. The Board eliminated four of the scenarios from future consideration, keeping five on the table for further review.

Three of the five scenarios relate to establishing a new school in a triangular area bounded by the North Shore Sanitary Canal, Green Bay Road and Church Street, referred to as the “Central Core.” (See map). This is roughly the attendance area of the old Foster School, which was converted into a magnet school as part of the District’s desegregation plan in 1967 and later closed in 1979.

The other two scenarios still on the table are to manage enrollment by changing policies or assumptions, and to manage enrollment by building additional classroom space on an as needed basis.

Based on projections that were updated on Oct. 19, the District is projecting it will need additional classroom space at four schools: Lincolnwood Elementary School (4-6 classrooms), Lincoln Elementary School (9 rooms), Haven Middle School (4-8 classrooms), and Nichols Middle School (2-8 classrooms).

These projections may change in light of updated enrollment projections that are being prepared by John D. Kasarda, consulting demographer, and an updated market analysis being prepared by Valerie Kretchmer. These updates are expected in the next few weeks.

The Board asked the administration to provide additional information concerning each of the five remaining scenarios at the next Board meeting.

Change Policies/Assumptions

The first scenario is to manage enrollment by changing policies or assumptions, such as by allowing class sizes to grow; by capping enrollment at the schools and transferring students to other schools who enroll after the cap is reached; by moving programs, such as a special education program or a Two-Way Immersion program, to less crowded schools; by converting art and music rooms to general education classrooms; and by redistricting and changing how elementary schools feed into middle schools.

Board members asked the administration to spell out how they would manage enrollment in the next few years using these strategies, including to estimate the level to which class sizes would grow; to specify which programs might be transferred to other schools, to identify the schools where cap and transfer might be employed, and to give a picture of what the District would look like if enrollment was managed in this way.

Build Space as Needed

A second scenario is to build classrooms at existing buildings as the need arises. Currently the District is projecting that it will need space at four schools.

Mary Brown, chief financial officer, prepared cost estimates to add classrooms to the four schools, based on the highest projected need using both Dr. Kasarda’s and District 65’s projections and assuming that schools would be at capacity if they were at 80% of the number of students permitted under the class-size guidelines. The cost estimates, which are subject to revision, are as follows:

• Lincoln renovation, plus 9 rooms – $10.2 million

• Lincolnwood, 6 classrooms – $3.2 million

• Haven, 10 classrooms – $4.7 million

• Nichols, 6 classrooms – $2.4 million

Richard Rykhus asked that the updated analysis being provided include an assessment of whether the “shared spaces,” such as gyms, cafeterias, libraries, art rooms, and music rooms would be able to accommodate increased enrollment at individual schools. “We need to know when there would be a limit on how many classrooms we could add on to the buildings that need them, given that constraint on shared spaces,” he said.

Andy Pigozzi posed the question, “How big is too big?… I think that’s the biggest drawback to [this scenario]. We leave Haven unchecked and we allow it to grow into this very, very large school…. I think it would really be a challenge to manage a middle school that’s approaching a thousand kids. I think we’d be fooling ourselves not to acknowledge that.”

A New School in the Central Core

Three of the scenarios relate to establishing a new school in the Central Core:

• Build a K-5 school in the Central Core with classrooms added to Lincoln, Haven and Nichols.

• Build a K-8 school in the Central Core, with classrooms added to Lincoln and Nichols.

• Build a middle school in the Central Core, possibly feed Dewey into the new middle school, and add classrooms to Lincoln and Nichols.

While no vote was taken on these three scenarios, a majority of the Board appeared to favor building a K-8 school, because it would address the space needs at Lincolnwood Elementary School and Haven Middle School. There was, however, a wide disparity of views on the issue.

Mr. Pigozzi said, in deference to the New School Committee which met 15 times and recommended a K-8 school, “If you’re going to build a building in the Central Core, I would go with the recommendation and make it a K-8.” In addition, he said it would address a need at Haven and keep it at a manageable level.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “If I had to make a recommendation tonight, it would be for K-8.”

Kim Weaver, however, said a K-8 school was not consistent with the District’s other neighborhood schools, that it was more costly than a smaller K-5 school, and she favored a K-5 school.

Mr. Rykhus said, “The most significant capacity need we have in the District is at the middle school level, and a K-5 school doesn’t do anything to address that.” He added that both a K-5 and a K-8 school would be overbuilding at the K-5 level.

He noted that if three classes per grade level were added at a new K-5 or K-8 school, it would add 18 classrooms at the K-5 level, and the need for additional capacity is 6 classrooms.

Katie Bailey responded, “I think Richard’s point is, and I think no one debates this, we don’t need 18 classrooms right now. We need six [at the K-5 level]. … We also know that we need the classrooms at the middle-school for sure. I think that’s why we’re all saying a middle- school makes sense.”

As a member of the New School Committee, Ms. Bailey noted that a K-8 school would serve a need to provide a neighborhood school to 600 students in the Central Core, who are currently assigned to the four schools in the north side of Evanston and who attend almost every school in the District.

Mr. Rykhus said he thought a middle school was the most attractive among the new school options. He said it would provide an opportunity to focus on achievement in the middle schools. He added that he talked to some members of the New School Committee and a few leaders in the Fifth Ward, and all but one was supportive of the idea of the middle school. By building a middle school, “We’re investing where the capacity is most needed,” he said.

Jerome Summers said he opposed a middle school, saying a K-5 school is needed in the Central Core to relieve the burden of busing and to provide a neighborhood school in that community. He added, “It’s the elementary school that builds community.”

Ms. Weaver likewise said she did not see a middle school meeting the social justice issue. “I don’t see 6-8 meeting the social justice issue. I think K-5.”

Eileen Budde said she thought a new school would need to increase capacity at the middle school level to have a chance of convincing voters to support it in a referendum.

Tracy Quattrocki proposed a hybrid approach: Build a K-6 school in the Central Core; convert Kingsley, Lincolnwood, Willard and Orrington into K-6 schools, using capacity created at those schools by shifting students to the new school; and convert Haven Middle School into a 7-8 school.

Mr. Brinson said this approach would solve the capacity issue at Haven, but would require classroom additions at Lincolnwood and Orrington schools. He added there would be some uncertainty about the capacity created at the north end schools to serve a sixth-grade level because students in the Central Core may elect to stay at the north end schools rather than attending the new school.

The Board did not reach consensus on any configuration for a new school, so decided to keep all three on the table. Dr. Murphy said the administration would try to fully vet all three types of schools in its analysis to be presented to the Board at its next meeting.

John Castellan of TMP Architecture estimated that a new K-8 school for 785 students would cost about $32.4 million, and that a K-5 school for 480 students would cost about $21.2 million.

Scenarios Off the Table

The District 65 School Board took three scenarios off the table on Oct. 24.

One scenario was to reconfigure the schools to be primary schools (K-2), intermediate schools (grades 3-5), and middle schools (grades 6-8). Paul Brinson, consultant, said the District would need to add classroom space to one or more intermediate schools and also to Haven and Nichols Middle Schools under this scenario. He added that the District would be able to save about three classrooms using this model if class sizes stayed the same, but it would not save operating expenses.

Tracy Quattrocki opposed this reconfiguration, saying the District values neighborhood schools and that switching students between schools and breaking up families goes against what the District is attempting to accomplish. Most other Board members were opposed to this scenario.

Two other scenarios that involved reconfiguring the District’s schools were taken off the table:

• Convert King Lab to a K-5 school and build a middle school in the Central Core. Add classrooms to Lincoln and Nichols.

• Convert the Joseph E. Hill Educational Center into a K-5 school and convert King Lab into a middle school. Move the administration building and early childhood center to another site, possibly in the Research Park.

There was a general opposition to converting King Lab to another use, particularly because it is home to the options program for students with a disability. Board members also noted that the capital costs associated with these scenarios was close to that of building a new school in the Central Core.

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...