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Lincoln Elementary School parents made the case at a recent Finance Committee meeting that something should be done about the storm-water detention area that was created on the northeast section of the property when the school building was expanded and renovated in 2012. The detention area, which is several feet deep, 90 feet wide and 165 feet long, takes up most of the recreational green space at the school, which serves 534 students.

The detention area holds water when it rains, and the water does not dissipate for several days, said Lisa Fontoura, a Lincoln parent who made the presentation to the Finance Committee. After the water dissipates, the area is muddy and not usable for a while.

In the winter, the slopes of the detention area become “very icy” and create a safety hazard, said Ms. Fontoura. She said some kids go into the detention area, and the slopes are so steep and icy they cannot get out. “There’s been some broken bones,” she said. As a safety measure, a chain-link fence was put around the area, precluding access altogether.

Before the school was expanded and renovated, the northeast section of the property was the primary outdoor recreation space for the school. When the detention area is not usable, 170 students are restricted to a small blacktop area during recess, which is inadequate for running or playing ball, said Ms. Fontoura.

Moreover, physical education classes are not conducted outdoors.

Creating the Detention Area, and Options

When the Lincoln School improvements were initially designed, the concept was to provide enough storm-water detention to account for the increased footprint of the additions to the existing building, not the footprint of the entire building. Under a 2008 City of Evanston Storm Water Ordinance, the District was required to provide storm management for the entire footprint of the building, not just the footprint of the additions.

The solution at that time was to create the storm-water detention area.

Thomas A. Rychlik, PE, of Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc., outlined three options to address the problem. Option 1 is to essentially enhance the soil and grass in the detention area to the level done in golf courses, he said, so that the soil would be better able to absorb water and reduce the time there is standing water and mud. He said this could be done during the summer for about $17,000.

Option 3 is to install pre-cast concrete “storm traps” in the existing detention area and then cover the storm traps over to make a level grassy field. Mr. Rychlik said storm traps are a “well-established” tool and are used in many construction projects. He said the new field should be as functional as it was before the renovation.

Since the area was already excavated to create the detention area, Mr. Rychlik said a significant portion of the work necessary to install the storm traps has already been done, but the estimated cost would be $463,000.

He said Option 2 would involve putting in a retaining wall and other improvements at a cost of about $210,000. Mr. Rychlik said this was a less desirable option.

Lincoln PTA’s proposal, Ms. Fontoura said, is to pursue grants to fund Option 3 that would provide the ideal long-term solution. In the meantime, the PTA urged the District to proceed with Option 1 as a stop-gap measure that would increase the number of days the detention area could be used as a play field while grants are being pursued to fund Option 3.

Mary Brown, chief financial officer and superintendent, said the administration recommended that the District move forward with Option 1 during this summer and that Option 3 be considered at a future date. Aside from the cost, she said, staff are stretched thin and could not get Option 3 implemented this summer.

Board Finance Committee Chair Richard Rykhus summed up that Lincoln parents “articulated a need very clearly. The issue is how we go about addressing the need.” He suggested that the full Board consider moving ahead with Option 1 this summer and that it consider Option 3 at the same time it considers all other capital projects.

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...