Evanston news delivered free to your inbox!
Foster Field is a busy place in spring, summer and fall. Teams play football, baseball, soccer and ultimate Frisbee on the athletic fields that lie along the south side of Simpson Street between Dewey and Ashland avenues.
Evanston Youth Soccer Organization, Junior Wildkits football, Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, as well as Evanston Township High School use the field, Interim Director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Audrey Thompson wrote in response to questions from the RoundTable. In addition, “Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center programs utilize the fields year round for school-year programming and summer camps. Fleetwood’s after school program serves 45 children, with 150 kids participating in summer camp.”
Spring season has begun and the fields are already in use, and, while it is likely that youth sports activities can continue through the summer, this may be the last season for such Foster Field activities.
Etched in stone on the entrances to the field are the words “City of Evanston,” but Evanston/School District 65 owns the property. The city has leased the property for the last 15 years and then arranged with sports organizations to hold their camps and games on the field. Under the terms of the lease, the annual rent is $1, and the city, as tenant, is to cover the costs of utilities incurred through the programs.
The lease is set to expire in May of this year but is renewable on an annual basis unless one party gives written notice of termination. Last week, District 65 did just that, notifying the city that the lease would not be renewed. The District plans to build a new school on the site and will begin some testing this summer.
Summer sports likely to continue
Rafael Obafemi, Chief Financial Officer for the District, said, “We’ll be doing some site-testing – environmental testing, just to see what’s going on [at] that site … and we’ll be doing a survey – all those things that will impact the city’s ability to use the field.”
Both Thompson and Obafemi indicated they would work together to accommodate this summer’s sports programming.
“We’ve worked well together with the city,” Obafemi said.
Thompson said, “The city has reserved the fields for its Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center 2022 summer camp programs. The EBSA holds the permit to use the field for its baseball and softball programs in the evenings through the end of August.”
“The city will work with District 65 to work out arrangements for summer and fall sports,” she added.
The District is interested in collaborating, she said, “but much will depend on approval of potential zoning variance requests that will directly impact the footprint of the new school.” She added that the city “has reached out to District 65 to get information on how the entire Foster Field site will be utilized.”
Obafemi indicated that the design of the school might allow the structure to be built “around the soccer field and not take away from the city. So we’re going to try as much as possible to accommodate the kids’ use.”
Next hurdle: resolving grant conditions
Obafemi acknowledged that the District will have to obtain permits from the city, and perhaps some zoning variances, before it can begin construction.
Complicating the issue of construction are conditions attached to grants the city received and spent. Whether the city will have to return funds or remove fields and courts remains to be seen.
A 2008 grant from the Open Space and Land Acquisition Development (OSLAD) of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to rehabilitate portions of Foster Field required that nothing be constructed there beyond support buildings for youth sports programs.
“This grant included improvements that are on the D65-owned property, such as the basketball courts, tennis courts and parking lots, in addition to other improvements, including the main entrance and playground. The City is working with D65 to identify if the OSLAD funded improvements can remain in place and become shared with the new school,” Thompson said.
She also noted that the city, together with the Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, in 2019 received a grant from the Cubs Local Initiatives Support Corporation to make improvements to the baseball field. The following year, she said, “The city used Community Development Block Grant Funds to make additional improvements to the baseball field, as well as replacing the perimeter fencing and improving the maintenance access drive.”
The city will work with those organizations to resolve whatever complications arise from the District’s plan, Thompson indicated.
IDNR has been “an excellent partner with the City,” she noted, and has funded park improvements in several locations here.
“The City wants to do what is necessary to preserve that relationship,” she said.
The city does not know at this point what action IDNR will require; it is possible that the OSLAD-funded projects would have to be removed, she said.
“If the OSLAD-funded facilities have to be removed, the City will reach out to IDNR to negotiate a resolution,” she said.
“The city has been aware of District’s 65’s work to bring a new school to the Fifth ward, but information on the schedule has only recently been determined. This fast-moving project is still in the very early stages, but now that key decisions have been made by the District 65 School Board, the City will work collaboratively with D65 to support their project implementation,” Thompson said.