An attempt to bring Kensington School, a private day care and preschool, to Evanston failed earlier this year, but Kensington owner and CEO Charles Marlas is back again.
Kensington’s first proposal, to tear down the Second Church of Christ, Scientist at 2715 Hurd Ave., and replace it with a new building, drew opposition from residents.
Willard Elementary School is across the street from the church property, and many parents expressed concern about the safety of their children, saying a new school would intensify traffic in the area.
The City Plan Commission voted against that proposal in April. Now Kensington owner Marlas is proposing a new location for the day care and preschool, in place of Unity Church at 3434 Central St.
Due to financial reason and a decreased need for such a large space, Unity Church is looking to downsize, and has already approved the sale of the property.
Marlas approached the Design and Project Review (DAPR) Committee on Sept. 29 for a concept review. “We are giving this another try after our unsuccessful attempt on Hurd,” Marlas said at the committee meeting. “We’re very excited about this location.”
Marlas presented three possible blueprints, each showing a rectangular two-story, 20,000 square-foot building and two outdoor play areas in different configurations on the property.
One change consistent among the three blueprints involves moving an easement currently on the property off to the side. Residents living in an apartment complex south of Unity Church on the North Shore use this easement, which cuts across church property, to reach their apartment. Marlas said for the safety of the children, the easement would need to be shifted west.
After Marlas presented his blueprints, DAPR committee members fired off questions and comments about the new plan.
Lara Biggs, Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief at the City of Evanston, said she is opposed to a main entrance on Main Street or Gross Point Road, which would create a drop-off/pick up zone on one of those two streets. This could lead to major traffic issues on those streets, as parents hurry to drop off their children, and it would wiser to keep the drop-off zone in the parking lot and within the property, Biggs said. She suggested putting the playground in front of the building and placing the main entrance in front of the parking lot.
“In 50-odd years, we’ve never put a playground in front of the building,” said Marlas, whose school has 12 campuses around the Chicago area. “I don’t think it would work well.” He added that at Kensington, parents are required to park and walk their kids to school, which could aid the pick-up/drop-off situation.
Biggs reiterated that even in this situation, the main entrance to the building should be the one nearest to the parking lot. Edgar Cano, the City’s Public Services Bureau Chief, backed up Biggs and added that during the winter, snow is stored along the curb and a build-up of vehicles along the street isn’t safe.
Emily Okallau, Public Services Coordinator at the City of Evanston, inquired about the trees and the impact that construction might have on the greenery. Marlas said no tree study has been done, and any trees standing in the way of the building and the parking lot would need to be cut. He added that the goal is to replant as much as possible.
In response, Okallau said that trees take a long time to grow back, and in the meantime, children won’t have the same access to green space. City Arborist Michael Callahan added that there is a large Norway Maple on the south side of the property that should be preserved, and that Marlas should consider landscaping that will help with noise control.
Bruce Baumberger, an Evanston resident who lives across the street from Unity Church on the North Shore, also gave his input on the project. He said he spoke with the church and made it clear that he and his neighbors want to work together with the developer to come up with a plan that is mutually beneficial. “We’d like to sit down at the table and discuss our concerns,” Baumberger said.
Baumberger added that he has several concerns about the layout, particularly the traffic the school may create, but that overall he is excited about the project and looks forward to working with the City and the developer in the future.