The last of three public meetings on a new Fifth Ward school saw mixed reception, as some details remain unclear, according to the 23 community members who came to the Wednesday, Feb. 8, discussion.
Community members raised concerns about the cost and feasibility of the project as well as parking. (You can read earlier stories here and here.)
The district decided on these public meetings after an online survey that saw just 342 Evanstonians respond, with only 88 residents from the Fifth Ward from an estimated 7,794 residents.
District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said Wednesday the district is moving ahead with its plan for the school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025. According to the plan presented by architectural firm Cordogan Clark, the latest design features a four-story, “L” shaped building with new sports facilities including a sports field.
The plan also calls for closing Dr Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies and moving those students and staff into the new building, Horton said. The creation of a new school in the ward will also help the district save $2.8 million in busing costs, he said.
However, some attendees remained skeptical. “I don’t think they’ll realize $2.8 million in savings. I think that’s wishful thinking” said Craig Zerbe, a longtime Evanston resident and Fifth Ward neighbor. He expressed concerns over the feasibility of the project given projected enrollment declines in the district, and called for an independent audit.
However, school officials are optimistic. “Based on the analysis we’ve done, the savings will be there,” said Raphael Obafemi, District 65 chief financial officer.
During the meeting Obafemi stressed the district’s financial position, citing the Illinois Report Card. According to the latest figures, the district has an 88% retention rate, with evidence-based funding at 104%. District 65 recently approved a hike in childcare fees.
Property owner Tina Paden inquired about parking at the new school. Senior architect Alex Lopez from Cordovan Clark, the architectural firm retained to help with the project, said the plan adds 83 spots with additional parking courtesy of Family Focus and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.
The district is now set to submit its land use permit proposal, which the city has 90 days to review, prior to an eventual city council vote.