Editor’s note: An update on this story is here.
In February, District 65 made the decision to turn the tennis and basketball courts next to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and Foster Field into a parking lot for employees at the new Fifth Ward school currently under development, according to a memo included in Monday night’s City Council packet.
Originally, designs for the school and surrounding campus did not include any changes to the outdoor athletic courts, but “D65 modified its plans,” Evanston Senior Project Manager Stefanie Levine wrote in the council packet.
Due to that change in plans by the district, the city now has to find vacant land and develop a new public park space because of state funding requirements.
Evanston will have to pay for that land and its conversion into an outdoor recreational area too.
The land in the Foster Field area is owned by a combination of the city, District 65 and Family Focus. In 2008 the city received an Open Space and Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) that helped fund more than $1 million worth of improvements to Foster Field’s recreation spaces, namely the tennis and basketball courts.
“That grant required the City to maintain the OSLAD-improved portions of the site for recreational use until 2028,” Levine said in her memo to City Council on Monday.
Levine and other city staff did not initially anticipate any issues fulfilling that requirement, even with the Fifth Ward school construction, because the district did not intend to alter or remove the courts. But, with the courts now set to become the school parking lot, the city reached out to IDNR for guidance on ways to still meet the 2008 grant demands.
“IDNR informed the City that this change in use would trigger a conversion clause in the grant agreement, requiring the City to purchase and develop new park property of an equal or greater value to replace the converted parkland,” Levine’s memo said. “The IDNR has required the City to research potential properties for conversion and provide initial appraisals for consideration by May 19, 2023.”
As a result, during its Monday meeting on April 10, City Council approved a resolution “committing to this process.”
In the resolution, the city clearly stated its support for the construction of the Fifth Ward school, and also noted that other parking options outside the courts “are limited, and will likely have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”
Levine and District 65 officials did not respond to questions from the RoundTable on Monday about the decision to convert the recreational space into a parking lot.
The resolution adopted by the City Council identified a date of 2030 for the opening of new park space to replace the Foster Field courts. Perhaps most importantly, the resolution also states that “the City will not seek funds from IDNR for the Property Conversion.”
If “the land in the Foster Field area is owned by a combination of the city, District 65 and Family Focus” doesn’t the city and FF have a say in what happens? Both groups should adamently oppose turning existing play space into parking. CoE and D65 wake up! Stop wasting money! This project is already going to be well over budget due to construction costs – is anyone paying attention???
And I predict there will be other unplanned for and unforeseen consequences. This school is expected to serve 900 children, more than any school in the district – with a continually declining student population.
Mary Anne Wexler