Editor’s note: The RoundTable has more Evanston City Council Jan. 9 coverage on the city seeking to renegotiate the District 65 MOU, Fifth Ward school survey results, the Artists Book Home agreement and the withdrawal of the bag tax.

City staff recommended to the city council Monday night that the city sever ties with District 65’s fast-paced schedule on the Fifth Ward Foster Park Campus, asking officials to circle back and collect more feedback from the community before moving forward.

The city-wide survey that was supposed to help decide the fate of the new school and possibly a new Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center did not add much clarity. (See full survey results here.)

City Capital Planning and Engineering Bureau Chief Lara Biggs recommended the city amend its memorandum of understanding with District 65 and hire an architect consultant of its own. Cordogan, Clark & Associates, the architectural firm which authored the four proposal renderings, is focused on meeting the needs of District 65, Biggs explained.

“We feel that the interests of the city would be best represented by hiring our own consultant,” Biggs told council members.

The results from the community survey didn’t provide enough information about what to community wants, so the city isn’t yet able to decide on a concept, which, in turn, delays the school district’s plans to break ground this year. The city hopes to establish a new memorandum of understanding in February.

“The information we’ve gotten back now gives us a certain amount of information that indicates that not everybody is on board with just moving forward with the existing status quo of the school district building the new school on the green space and leaving no community park really to speak of,” Biggs said. “However, it’s not really enough to tell us exactly what people want. And for that reason, we would recommend engaging in a much more robust community engagement process.”

The city doesn’t have any proposed plans yet for furthering community engagement.

City council debates need for public opinion

The survey asked residents to select their first and second choices out of the four proposed concepts for the new Fifth Ward school and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

But the results may be flawed because the survey did not attempt to collect a random sample from the city residents as a whole or from neighborhood residents in particular.

The best polls and surveys are conducted by independent, nonpartisan organizations, with no vested interest in the outcome of the findings, according to Leighton Walter Kills, a research editor for the Journalist’s Resource.

“In all scientific polls, respondents are chosen at random. Surveys with self-selected respondents – for example, people interviewed on the street or who just happen to participate in a web-based survey – are intrinsically unscientific,” Kills wrote.

In the nine days the city survey was open, it collected 342 responses from residents, who wither opted to fill out a web form or who signed up at a meeting, which means the sample was self-selected.

Only 88 of those responding were residents of the Fifth Ward, which is where the project will take place. 

The survey shows that the highest percentage, 33.6%, of the 342 residents surveyed preferred concept 1. This option significantly reduces Foster Field and keeps the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center building as is. 

“I don’t think it’s clear from the survey what the community’s preference is regarding the [Foster] Field,” Biss said. “I just I think it’s really important for decisions of this magnitude that we get the quantity and quality of input we need before just kind of rushing forward.”

City Manager Luke Stowe agreed. “I think there is a little bit concern that only 88 respondents were identified as Fifth Ward residents, so I think we’re looking to get additional feedback just because it’s a relatively small sample size,” Stowe said.

Credit: Alex Harrison

But Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns disagreed with interpretations of the community survey.

“We have enough information from the community that says there is strong enough support from those who participated in this survey that they want to preserve the playfield,” Burns said.

He also reminded the council “We do not have time.”

The city doesn’t have a minimum number of participants required for city-wide surveys, said City Communications Manager Patrick Deignan to a RoundTable reporter before the council meeting. But Stowe said during the meeting that he will find city requirements for survey sample standards.

Finance and Budget discussion

The Finance and Budget Committee is expected to discuss the Fifth Ward Foster Park Campus Tuesday night, but First Ward Council Member Clare Kelly said no material regarding the project was shared with committee members in advance.

“I would have liked for our committee members to have had a packet of information to review before going to discuss it tomorrow,” Kelly said. “I feel like that’s not really the most responsible way to proceed, so we will absolutely have to have at least one or two more meetings with Finance and Budget with material to read ahead of time.”

Burns explained that he and city staff weren’t able to prepare a packet for the committee because the city’s chief financial officer is out of town.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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