The fate of Foster Field, site of the planned Fifth Ward school campus, is uncertain as buildings are likely to encroach on the current green space. Credit: Bob Seidenberg / Evanston RoundTable

Add Evanston Public Library to the list of groups with an interest in the Fifth Ward school and possible changes to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

City of Evanston and School District 65 officials convened a community meeting at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Dec. 6, presenting four concepts for the new school and its impact on Fleetwood-Jourdain and Foster Field.

As a follow-up, city officials posted an online survey for community members to weigh in on which option they preferred for developing what has been called the new Fifth Ward campus.

At the Dec. 14 Evanston Public Library Board meeting, board President Tracy Fulce asked interim library Executive Director Heather Norborg whether the library is part of the discussion about the new Fifth Ward Foster Campus concept.

Norborg said that while the library has not had discussions with the city about the issue, library officials continue in conversation with Family Focus, located adjacent to Fleetwood-Jourdain. The Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building at 2010 Dewey Ave. could house a library branch, officials said.

Dara Munson, Family Focus president and Chief Executive Officer, told the Library Board earlier this year that a branch library in the building would be an “ideal fit” with the other social service organizations housed there.

City Council update

In a presentation at the Dec. 12 City Council meeting, Lara Biggs, Evanston’s city engineer, updated council members on the city/District 65 Fifth Ward school/community center project.

In March of this year, District 65’s school board approved a new Fifth Ward school, issuing lease certificates for funding the project with an estimated cost of $40 million.

The district model took into account that once the school was built, it would be walkable for a lot of students, with the money saved on busing going toward project costs, Biggs said.

A tentative start

Biggs told council members that, while there was not a lot of discussion upfront with the city about the project, city staff reached out to the district after it was approved.

The two parties met on April 8 “and when we saw the plan,” Biggs told council members, “there were a lot of concerns that came up because it was built on Foster Field [the athletic field along Simpson Street], which is an important green space for the community, and integral to the programming we offer” at Fleetwood-Jourdain.

“We spent the summer going through a couple of options with the school district,” she said. “We decided that it would be most helpful [if ] we work together.”

On Aug. 8, the City Council approved a memorandum of understanding about the possibility of constructing a joint facility on their properties that would accommodate “District 65 use, City of Evanston use, and shared use between District 65 and the City.”

The proposal also stated the city’s desire to enter into an agreement with architects Cordogan Clark for initial planning and assessments of the city’s programming and budgetary requirements in the process.

Since then, the city has been working with the school district as well as Family Focus, the third property owner in the area,  “to better understand what their [Family Focus’s] mission is,” Biggs said.

The existing Foster Field site, showing Fleetwood-Jourdain and Family Focus. Credit: Duncan Agnew

At the Dec. 6 community meeting, Biggs said, there were some options introduced for “what could be done with the site in order to make it more useful and helpful, make a better school, and make a better community center.” 

To that end, the city issued the survey, asking community members for feedback on the four options under consideration for the Fifth Ward site.

Four site plans

In a video on the city’s website, Alex Lopez, associate vice president with Cordogan Clark, provided more detail about the four site plans:

Concept no. 1 leaves Fleetwood-Jourdain untouched as it currently stands. Credit: Duncan Agnew
  • Concept 1 calls for a three-story K-8 school built directly on District 65 property. Bus and parent drop-offs would be made possible through curb cut offs at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue. No property transfer is required for this concept. There would be shared use between the district and city for playground basketball, tennis and basketball courts, but the Foster Field green space would be significantly reduced. There would be minimal cost impact to the city and Fleetwood-Jourdain would remain in operation throughout the project.
Concept no. 2 leaves room for a field in the center of the property. Credit: Duncan Agnew
  • In Concept 2, the new K-8 school would be four stories. Bus and parent drop-offs, again, would be at Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue. A new Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center would be built at the corner of Foster Street and Ashland Avenue. Foster Field green space would remain similar to its existing footprint and Fleetwood-Jourdain could potentially remain in operation until the new community center is up and running. The cost to the city would depend on whether a roughly 18,000-square-foot district swimming pool is included.The price range under this concept is somewhere between $32 million and $34 million.
Concept no 3 puts a field just north (right, in this view) of the new school building and the community center. Credit: Duncan Agnew
  • In Concept 3, the K-8 school would be a four-story building. It would use a portion of what is now City of Evanston property. Bus and parent school drop-offs would be internal to the site, a major change. A new Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center would be built on the existing City of Evanston property. The size of Foster Field green space would be reduced to approximately 70% from its present size. The current Fleetwood-Jourdain building would be demolished before the new school is built. Cost impact to the city for the new community center and demolition of the existing one is roughly $32 million to $34 million. The new center would be roughly 25,000 square feet in size and would include a pool of about 18,000 square feet. 
Concept no. 4 places a new community center on a different property about a block away from Foster Field. Credit: Duncan Agnew
  • Concept 4 calls for splitting the site into different areas, with the community center relocated a block south to Emerson Street. The Foster Park area between Family Focus and Fleetwood would house the new K-8 school and bus and parent drop-offs would be internal to the site. The Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center would be rebuilt and the Gilbert Park African Art installation relocated to a new play area. The Foster Field green space would remain similar to what it is now. In this scheme, the current Fleetwood-Jourdain would need to be demolished before the District 65 school would be built. Cost impact to the city is estimated at $48 million to $50 million, and would include a 25,000-square-foot community center and 18,000-square-foot pool. 

Biggs told council members at their Dec. 12 meeting that staff plans to share the results of the community survey, coming back Jan. 9 to the City Council with some recommendations on how to proceed with the project.

In the meantime, Biggs noted, District 65 is on a short time schedule, already paying debt service on the project.

District 65 has owned the property where it is looking at building since the early 1900s, Biggs said. In 1954, the city acquired property from the district to build Fleetwood-Jourdain, she said.

“And there’s not a lot of open space in Evanston where they really have an opportunity to just all of a sudden build a school,” Biggs said. “Since they own this property, it was a huge cost savings to them. And it is nice for them from the standpoint that it is in the center of the ward, so it’s a good location for school. The unfortunate thing is how much Fleetwood-Jourdain uses that property, the Foster Field property, for programming and to support our summer camps and after school programs.”

Council Member Bobby Burns, in whose Fifth Ward the properties are located, maintained that though concern was expressed at the Dec. 6 meeting, it was not to the degree portrayed in the media.

“I think people were genuinely open to all the concepts,” he said. The challenge the city is faced with “is we’re trying to fit yet another really big building on a relatively small development site and still preserve as much green space in mature trees as possible – which is like a no-win situation,” he said. “We have to give up something.”

Related stories

District 65 looks at ‘lease certificates’ to pay for new Fifth Ward school

Questions remain about Fifth Ward school plans

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

Join the Conversation

3 Comments

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Independent of this article, would the community support a fifth ward school if it was a K-12 school with its own superintendent, own accountability and own budget?
    The fifth ward wants a K-8 school; why not go all the way and make it a K-12 school?

    1. The closest thing to what you are talking about might be a charter school.

      I think that would be a great idea and it should be one that should have been thoroughly considered prior to deciding to build the school with district funds.

      Of course administrators like Supt. Horton don’t like charters since they lose some control of their operations.

  2. Let’s recap what is happening here:

    1. District 65 claims we need a new school even though enrollment is declining across the district and the existing buildings are suffering from years of deferred upkeep. The claim is that students who are bused to different parts of town are somehow at a disadvantage. However, no analysis is done to support these claims using student performance data. You could easily compare test scores of students who are bused with those who are not while controlling for socio-economic and demographic factors. All those data are available to the District, so it raises a big red flag when this simple analysis is not done (or, maybe it was done, but not publicized).

    2. Instead of following the fiscally prudent mechanism of raising money by issuing municipal bonds and paying them off with an ad valorem tax, the District dips into operational funds to build the school. This means they will not only have to pay more for the school (municipal bonds give a better rate), but they will have to rely on their normal operating budget to meet their debt obligations.

    3. Seeing higher construction costs and attempting to reduce their liability for a poor financial decision, the District is going to the City, the Library, etc. to help bail them out of this situation.

    4. Now that the district has already borrowed the money and is obliged to start paying back the lease certificates, they are creating a false sense of urgency for the city. District 65 is saying “The clock is running, we need a decision quickly.”

    5. This whole effort of manufacturing urgency is designed to reduce public scrutiny and debate, which is the basic operational strategy of the District.

    6. A normal process would have been for the District to negotiate with the city BEFORE borrowing the money, agreeing on a plan. And then, crucially, GO TO THE VOTERS to get authorization for municipal bonding for the new facility.

    The fact that this process wasn’t followed should give the city pause and tell the district that they are on their own.