The vacant Second Church of Christ, Scientist, across from Willard Elementary School, may be torn town and replaced with a preschool/daycare center. (Round Table photo)

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By a 5-3 vote on April 14, the City’s Plan Commission recommended against a request for a special use to build a day-care center and preschool in northwest Evanston. Kensington Schools plans to replace the vacant Second Church of Christ, Scientist at 2715 Hurd Ave. with a two-story private school.  

Despite the negative recommendation, however, the project will move to City Council for approval.

Rendering of proposed Kensington School at 2715 Hurd Ave. (From City of Evanston materials)

Charles Marlas of Kensington proposes to deconstruct the existing church building, designed by Perkins & Will, salvaging as much material as possible, thus diverting it from landfills. The exterior of the two-story preschool/day-care center would be modular face brick, with synthetic white wood trim and white metal-clad window and doors.  There would be a metal and cable screen wall around the rooftop playground.

Neighbors have written letters to the Plan Commission and attended the hearings to express their concerns about the increased traffic the preschool would draw. Since the property lies across the street from Willard Elementary School, some parents said they were concerned about the safety of their children, as daily traffic would increase and possibly double.

Others have said the $25,000 annual tuition does not comport with equity measures the community espouses.  

“Hurd [Avenue] becomes the main road, and there will be an issue with both Kensington and Willard’s parents dropping off,” said Tim Reardon, who presented greater details of the traffic concerns.

“I am scared to think about the increased safety risk and make them [aspects of the neighborhood] off-limits on my family,” said Peter Boyle, who lives close to Willard and has children who attend school there.

“This is one of the only places I have seen for children to use the sidewalk, streets and alleys; the proposed daycare will affect the safety of our kids,” said Desmond Thomas who lives with his five-year-old daughter a few homes away from the church.

While some nearby residents have said they believe having a daycare center in the area is important and do see a need for it, they said Kensington was not the right one, because the group would tear down the church to create a two-story facility to hold 165 students.

“When I heard they were going to tear down the church and build something bigger, I was confused because that is not possible,” said Lauren Janis.

A story that describes neighborhood opposition can be found here.

The developer has made some adjustments to the original design, reducing the square footage from 21,314 square feet to 19,836 square feet, reducing the impervious surface from 73.3% to 69.1% of lot area (the existing coverage is 63%), adding landscaping around the site and on the roof, and eliminating the alley access from the parking lot.

In its application for special-use zoning, Kensington lists as public benefits:

  • Beautiful classroom environments;
  • Restoring the property to the tax rolls;
  • Deconstructing rather than demolishing the church building;
  • Meeting LEED Silver standards;
  • $25,000 to upgrade street lights to LED;
  • $10,000 to replace public sidewalk squares;
  • $10,000 for traffic calming improvements in addition to the speed bump at the south end of the alley, improvements based on resident requests and City review;
  • A stop sign installed in the alley by City and cost of signs paid by the applicant;
  • A donation to the West Central Street Special Service Area;
  • Consideration of  a local employment program with career paths for low-income and minority residents;
  • Contributing to the Affordable Housing Fund or other ways of addressing housing needs could be considered, as childcare centers generally have low-wage jobs that would not enable workers to live in Evanston;
  • Plowing and salting the alley adjacent to the property and considering plowing/salting the entire alley on that block.

The Design and Project Review Committee, which heard the proposal earlier, gave conditional approval of the proposal if Mr. Marlas, the developer, would work with neighbors to resolve the traffic issues.

Plan Commission members made similar recommendations to work with neighbors.

Ultimately only three of the eight members voted to recommend that City Council approve the special use. Council has the ultimate authority to accept or reject the proposal.