City and school officials are contemplating clearing off all of Foster Field for the new Fifth Ward School – including the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center – and then rebuilding the new school plus a new upgraded community center.

On Monday night, the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Evanston and Evanston/Skokie School District 65, according to the meeting packet for Monday’s Council meeting. As of yet, there is no agreement as to what an upgrade means.

The entrance to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, the Fifth Ward’s local recreation center, at 1655 Foster St. Credit: RoundTable file photo

The vote formalized the ability for both sides to legally look into how and if upgrading the community center is possible, something the two sides have been discussing since June, Superintendent Devon Horton told the RoundTable during a Monday phone interview.

It initiated a two-phase process estimated to take about five months through the end of 2022, and cost the city more than $200,000 in fees paid to Cordogan Clark & Associates, which is designing the Fifth Ward school and will reconceptualize the school with the center.

“I am in 100% support of that [project], and I think the reason why we looked at demolishing Fleetwood as a possibility is because whether it’s a rec center or a civic center or a park, these things have a lifespan, and when they reach the end of their lifespan, they need to be upgraded,” Council member Bobby Burns (5th Ward) said before the meeting.

“So what I’ve said is that the Fifth Ward community is really owed an upgrade on its community center. It’s one of the oldest public buildings in Evanston, if not the oldest, and the community is owed and really overdue for an upgrade of their rec center.”

The funding for the community center upgrade as well as the new plans would not come from the school district but from the Five-Fifths TIF District, which the council approved in October 2021.

Right now, the price tag for the school is $40 million. The TIF District, which has a 23-year lifespan, is expected to generate $77 million through its duration. But because of its structure, it will generate only $1.5 million in the first five years. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025.

No one, as of yet, has any type of cost estimate for the new recreation center.

The history of reimagining the project

In June, city representatives listened to a presentation from district staff for the new school, which will be built on what is now Foster Field, next to Fleetwood-Jourdain. Shortly after that meeting, city staff came back to the district with concerns about the construction plan, Horton said.

City-owned Foster Field, located between Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building, is one of the public properties that lie within the proposed Five-Fifths TIF district. (RoundTable photo)

In fact, Interim Deputy City Manager David Stoneback wrote in a memo to Council members and the mayor precisely that, saying: “Staff is concerned that the scale of the proposed structures relative to the limited space on site will create numerous issues including loss of greenspace, loss of mature trees, security/safety issues, traffic congestion, and an urban density that is out of scale and character with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Both sides decided to look into how the area could be developed more efficiently and effectively, Burns said. One of the options – and it does seem most likely right now, according to everyone who discussed this with the RoundTable – would mean demolishing and completely rebuilding Fleetwood-Jourdain, which the city owns.

The upgraded community center would likely take up less space on the ground floor than Fleetwood-Jourdain, preserving more trees and green space in and around Foster Field. But Burns anticipates approving a second floor for the new center, so it can still provide the same programs and services to residents.

Burns wants the upgraded center to include a new public pool and a multipurpose room with a ground surface that can accommodate year-round roller skating, which he said community members have pushed for many times over the years.

Next steps

Moving forward, in phase one the architecture and engineering firm Cordogan Clark will meet with city staff, District 65 and Fleetwood-Jourdain to draw up a plan and some renderings for the new community center, according to a memo in Monday’s council packet.

The Fleetwood-Jourdain Center is a meeting place for the community as seen here, where Deputy to the City Manager Kimberly Richardson addresses a crowd of 40 during an informational session on the restorative housing program.

In the second phase, the firm will organize several neighborhood town halls with Fifth Ward residents on the drawings and features of the new facility.

Additionally, the District 65 school board will hold a discussion on this project during its regular meeting later this month, and the community should know that the potential demolition of Fleetwood-Jourdain will only upgrade, and not eliminate, services and resources, Horton said.

“Also, the city is really looking very hard at where services will go during the time that these facilities are being built,” Horton said. “That’s something that the city’s already starting to comb through and review right now, because we don’t want families to not have [those programs] for two years or whatever time to get this built.”

For example, the city could relocate some of Fleetwood-Jourdain’s summer programs to unused District 65 school buildings and recreational areas, according to Burns. In a Monday email to the RoundTable, Parks and Recreation Department Director Audrey Thompson said the city will do everything it can to find alternatives for programming and services while the existing Fleetwood-Jourdain site is not available for use.

“It would be naive for me to believe that if demolition does happen, there won’t be any effect on programming,” Thompson said. “However, staff members are looking at each program and service provided by Fleetwood currently and we will do all in our power to ensure that those who currently receive those programs and services will have resources in the meantime as the project develops.”

For now, one of the main concerns for both city and district staff is getting a plan put together by the end of the year so builders can break ground on the new school sometime in the spring of 2023.

The current timeline from District 65 calls for the school to open on the first day of the 2025-26 academic year, which gives the city and district a little more than two years to finish everything.

“Our partnership with the city could really grow from this. It’s no secret that our district and the city, we’ve had some differences in the past, but here’s an opportunity for all the big organizations in Evanston to say ‘Well, we can do some great work together, and you can do more together,’ so I’m excited about that,” Horton said.

“And for me, I really believe this is a huge win for the entire city and the school district of Evanston to be able to build something so phenomenal that could really make a difference for the lives of current students, but also for future generations of students to come.”

Bob Seidenberg contributed to this story.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. I think this is a great idea, Fleetwood-Jourdain is looking tired and could use some upgrades. I hope there is also consideration in the plans for keeping Foster Field usable by the Evanston Junior Wildkits Football and Mentoring program that has leased space there and supported late elementary and middle schoolers for more than 20s years. There really is no other place in the city for this program with several teams to continue as most park district field space is now dedicated to soccer and baseball programs. Lola Himrod

  2. Other communities have park district gyms with state-of-the-art indoor equipment, a track, ice skating rink, pools, and exercise classes. In fact, I am not aware of any other suburb that does not offer this to the residents. Why doesn’t Evanston have one?

    1. That would be the new $55M Robert Crown center. It has everything you listed (+ a library) except for a pool. Evanston does lack a public indoor pool, but both the YWCA and YMCA have them.

  3. Will the long-promised Fifth Ward library be part of this complex as well? If not, what is its current status?