District 65’s second of three scheduled Fifth Ward school community engagement meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7, pulled in half the crowd the first meeting did.

About 15 people attended, but District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said he’s fine with the turnout and feels the district has kept the community informed on the project.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton Credit: Gina Castro

“I’m just going to be honest, I think we’ve done a lot of meetings over the last roughly two years about the Fifth Ward school,” Horton said in a discussion with the RoundTable after the meeting. “I think the members of the community and in the Fifth Ward, they understand where we’re going.

“I think the individuals coming out now are really concerned just about the steps and the details of what we’re doing.”

The district’s third and final community meeting before it submits its land use permit proposal to the city is 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1711 Simpson St.

The city has 90 days to review the proposal and send feedback to the district, Horton said. And once the district and the city come to an agreement, the city council will vote.

The presentations

The Feb. 7 meeting started off with reviewing the history that led to the district building a new school in the Fifth Ward.

Cordogan Clark, the architecture and engineering firm for the project, dived into its design proposal. The latest design is a four-story “L” shaped school building with a playfield, a basketball court, a new playground areas and 83 parking spaces. The K-8 school is estimated to accommodate 900 students with a staff of about 75 people.

At first, the city and the district were working together to develop the Fifth Ward Foster Park Campus, but the two entities have since split due to the district’s faster pace. Now, the district is moving forward with constructing the school on the land it currently owns.

As a result, the district is now working with a single design proposal rather than the four it proposed in December 2022.

An article about the district’s first community engagement meeting on Feb. 4 goes into more detail about the latest design proposal. All three of the district’s community engagement meetings for the project this month present the same information. It’s the questions and concerns from the community that varies.

One of the first questions raised at the Feb. 7 meeting was if the current design proposal is final or not.

Lead architect Alex Lopez explained the latest design has been narrowed down through several other community engagement meetings and surveys. The previously shown design proposals are no longer on the table, he said.

“Even then, this isn’t 100% set in stone,” Lopez said. “I like to say this: these are just lines on paper, and the reason why we’re here is to gain input.”

Yet, Horton said, there’s a good chance the current proposal will be the final one.”There’s a 95% chance that this is where we’ll land,” Horton said.

Environmental concerns

Many of the questions and concerns were on the subject of the environment.

The district is considering making the playfield for the school an artificial turf field, rather than grass. Although the turf would have to be replaced about every 10 years or so, it’s cheaper than maintaining natural grass, Lopez said.

“That’s not green space, that’s plastic,” said Matthew Smith, who is a teacher at King Arts and lives in the Fifth Ward. “And so we’re subtracting a lot of green space. It might look green, but it’s not. It’s plastic.”

No permanent decision on the field has been made.

Another concern was the possible loss of trees. The project will have to uproot eight trees, but Lopez says another 20 trees will be planted. Lopez said he and others on the project are putting “an enormous amount of effort” into preserving the trees in the area.

The impact the school will have on parking in the surrounding area was a concern raised by Tanya Brown, a longtime resident of the Fifth Ward.

As the project develops, additional street parking may be added to Ashland Avenue and Simpson Street, said Raphael Obafemi, District 65’s chief financial officer. There’s also potential to lease parking spaces, he added. The project will also include bike parking, Obafemi said.

Brown and Smith, among the most vocal attendees at the meeting, told the RoundTable afterwards they were satisfied by the answers from the district regarding their concerns.

Gina Castro

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

Join the Conversation


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. Please note that Alex Lopez said that he suspected that the costs of
    Lawn maintenance were greater than the replacement of turf but that he had not looked at the numbers. Most sources actually state that this is wrong and, in fact, replacing and maintaining turf is more expensive. It would be great to fact check this statement independently before it’s adopted as truth. Thanks for your coverage.

  2. Aside from the fact that grass is a healthier choice for children and better for the environment. There is a climate emergency, and we should lead by example.

    Astro turf is not less expensive the grass. Astro turf needs constant maintenance by our city workers too, and millions for repair or replacement in 8-10 years. ralsportssurfaces.com/news/artificial-turf-maintenance-101-a-routine-maintenance-guide-for-your-turf/ It has to be raked https://generalsportssurfaces.com/news/top-notch-turf-6-artificial-turf-maintenance-tips/a and refilled with base material. The Evanston residents deserve a cost comparison. Also, because it is plastic when there is extreme heat it can’t be used because of the heat generated by the plastic. Watering it down can help according to city engineer, the Lara Biggs.

    Also, there is the question of whether there is enough green space for the children. An underground parking garage would solve that problem while eliminating the possibility of an unplanned $40-50,000,000 expense tear down and rebuild the Fleetwood Jourdain Center a few hundred feet away in order to create more green space. Cost responsibility for that move would not be out the 41% of the property tax bill school district 65 levies. It would have fallen on the city to levy on the taxpayers for a project as expensive as The Robert Crown Center.
    This project needs to be environmentally and fiscally responsible.