Rendering of the north plaza of Fountain Square.Rendering from City of Evanston

About 75 people attended a joint First and Fourth Ward meeting on June 7 to hear a presentation on the “preferred” design for a renovated Fountain Square.

Jodie Mariano of Teska Associates and Mike Kerr of Christopher Burke Engineering presented the design, which, with some revisions, was the one most people favored at a public meeting held in April.

Some key features are a glass wall memorial in remembrance of Evanston soldiers who died in war; a fountain composed of 20 water jets that can spurt water at various heights ranging from a few inches to six feet; and a plaza expanded by closing one southbound lane on Sherman Avenue, changing traffic and parking patterns, and bringing the plaza areas and adjacent roads to the same height.

After the presentation, those in attendance had a chance to ask questions and to comment on the proposed design and, later, to converse one-on-one more informally.

The North Plaza

Fountain Square, the plaza between Sherman and Orrington avenues north of Davis Street, would be expanded to the west by closing one southbound lane on Sherman Avenue between Church and Grove streets.

At the north end of the plaza, names of Evanston soldiers who died in war would be etched in the glass on the new memorial wall, 35 feet long and 12 feet high. Above the names would be the words, “They gave their lives in war that we might live in peace.” Residents would be able to walk up to the wall and around it, and the wall would be set away from the fountain, both of which changes veterans requested, said Ms. Mariano.

Ms. Mariano said the names would be visible in the day, and at night the glass would glow. The wall is similar to the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Greg Wilson, a member of the American Legion Post No. 42, said a group of veterans reviewed the proposed design and approved it. “We think it is a very respectful design,” he said. He added that the current bronze plaques memorializing the dead at Fountain Square need to be preserved in some way and relocated. “Those are sacred, and I’m sure we’ll reach a final consensus on that,” he said.

The fountain, five rows of four water jets, would be placed south of the memorial glass wall. The jets would be flush with the pavement, and they will be adjustable so water can spurt at varying levels. Ms. Mariano said the jets could be turned off at night, and then shoot up water a few inches in the morning, rising to six feet at noon, and then back down to a few inches in the evening.

The jets could also be linked to music, or to colors via colored lights in the jets, Ms. Mariano said, allowing many variations.  “The idea is that the fountain would be ever changing,” said Ms. Mariano. “It can be splashing at times and quiet at times.”

The water could be turned off for public events in the plaza, such as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day observances. Having the jets flush with the pavement would keep the plaza “as wide open and clear as possible,” said Ms. Mariano, allowing people to stand in the fountain area during public gatherings. The surface would be covered with granite, which is “slip-resistant,” Ms. Mariano said. The fountain could also be turned off if there were strong winds.

Tree groves set in the pavement with café seating would be on the east and west sides of the plaza, and cube seats would be set around the plaza.

The South Plaza

The triangular area between Sherman and Orrington avenues south of Davis Street would be enlarged on the east side, by eliminating the western most lane of traffic on Orrington Avenue between Grove and Davis streets. Persons traveling north on Orrington Avenue wishing to turn left onto Davis Street would be rerouted to the east lane of Sherman Avenue, which would be closed to southbound traffic between Church and Grove streets.

The South plaza will have a kiosk for event signs, and café style tables and chairs toward the north end of the plaza. Evergreen trees planted on the south end would serve as holiday trees. There would also be space for the menorah and the Kwanzaa kinara.

Flattening the Area

From Grove Street through the north end of the north plaza, the plaza areas would be at the same level as Sherman and Orrington avenues. There would thus be no curbs separating the roads from the plazas, but planter boxes and light fixtures might act as the separators. This would give the entire area a “plaza-like setting,” said Ms. Mariano. It would also enable the City to close the roads for major events, and allow the crowd to spill over from the plaza area into the roads.

Widening Sidewalks

Going north from the north plaza, the sidewalks on the east side of Sherman Avenue and the west side of Orrington Avenue would be widened. The sidewalks on the Sherman Avenue side would be widened by closing one lane of traffic. On the Orrington Avenue side, the proposal is to change the angle of parked cars, which will enable the City to widen the sidewalk, but at the potential loss of some parking spaces.

The road and the plazas would be flush level up to the north end of the north plaza. Northward from there, the street would slope downward from the sidewalk level until it reached the standard differential by Church Street.

Public Comments

Virginia Beatty said historically Fountain Square had a fountain where people came to drink water. She said the redesigned Fountain Square should have a “fantastic fountain,” not a “water feature.” Ms. Mariano said there would be a drinking fountain in the plaza.

In response to questions, Ms. Mariano and Mr. Kerr said the proposed plazas would have “a lot more trees” than are currently there. “There won’t be any specific marked bike lane,” they said, and the fact that the plazas would be at the same level as the streets would make them more accessible to people with walkers and in wheelchairs. Children might find their way to play amidst the water jets. 

Former Mayor Lorraine Morton said the plaza belonged to everyone in the City, and everyone, not just First and Fourth Ward residents, should have an opportunity to provide input on the proposed design. 

Cost/Schedule

The estimated cost of the project is $5 million, most of which would be paid for with funds remaining in the Washington National tax-increment financing district (TIF), said Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson. He said the City would not have to increase taxes to pay for the renovations. 

The anticipated schedule is to present the plan to City Council for approval in July 2016, to prepare plans and design drawings in the balance of 2016, to let the project for bids in early 2017, and to construct the project in 2017-18.