Parking issues were the focus of the most recent community meeting on the new Fifth Ward school, which District 65 officials and Cordogan Clark architects hosted Thursday evening at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.
Current design plans include a parking lot for building staff with 83 spaces, to be constructed on the existing tennis and basketball courts next to Fleetwood-Jourdain.
The school is expected to employ between 70 and 75 staff members, according to lead architect Alex Lopez, but District 65 will likely have to share the parking lot with Fleetwood-Jourdain and Family Focus workers.
“Some of the stuff about how parking is going to work is related to agreements that District 65, the City of Evanston and Family Focus have not entirely worked out,” City Engineer Lara Biggs said at the meeting. “I think we’re going to be looking at this as this project continues to develop, but at this point in time, I don’t have any final solution to this challenge, which is a very real challenge that should be addressed.”
Some 30 parents and community members were present at the meeting, where a number of District 65 board members and administrators spoke and responded to questions. Residents voiced concerns about the parking situation, especially when it comes to students having safe passage to and from school every day amid a vibrant and hectic environment around Family Focus and Fleetwood-Jourdain.
District 65 Manager of Student Assignments Sarita Smith said the district is exploring potential partnerships for parking with nearby churches like Christ Temple Missionary Baptist and First Church of God, but attendees said the community has been asking for shared parking at those locations for 20 years, with the churches taking a “hard no” stance.
Before the parking discussion, Lopez and Cordogan Clark Executive Vice President Brian Kronewitter offered a first look at renderings of the building exterior and plans for all three floors. The campus would have five electric vehicle charging stations and provide a net gain of 20 trees, according to Lopez. A new basketball court would also go next to two playgrounds in the area between Family Focus and Fleetwood-Jourdain.
The building itself would be constructed in an L shape along Simpson Street and Ashland Avenue, with the younger grade levels likely having their classrooms located on the lowest floor. However Lopez and Kronewitter said those floor plan designs are only about 35% complete.
Local climate action activists got a big win at the meeting: Lopez detailed a list of sustainable design elements the district and Cordogan Clark have agreed to include. All electric energy usage, solar panels, a high-efficiency HVAC system, LED lighting and water-efficient fixtures were among features the architects highlighted.
Climate Action Evanston, Environmental Justice Evanston, E-Town Sunrise and local LEED certified architects had fought for many of those provisions for the new building over the past year. Lopez announced that nearly every demand made by those groups will be met in the design and construction process.
District 65 is committed to achieving LEED Gold or Silver with the school, Lopez said. Cordogan Clark has also hired a third party firm, Chicago-based Baumann Consulting, to advise on energy efficiency and sustainable design efforts in the process.
“They listened. Sustainability, LEED goals … it was a much better meeting,” resident Janet Alexander Davis said.
The crowd largely agreed with Davis. Resident Scott Mangum described the latest plans as “an improvement” from the designs that Cordogan Clark brought forward in January and February.
But many residents still expressed hesitation about how small the site is, and the constraints that building a school right next to Fleetwood-Jourdain and Family Focus will inevitably create.
Responding to those doubts, District 65 Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi described Evanston as an urban environment, which can cause unique issues with development and construction in any community.
“We are in an urban setting. The oldest of our schools, before now, was probably built in the early ’70s. This is the land in the Fifth Ward that we own, that we can build on. So it’s an urban school,” Obafemi said. “The only way to build this, as much as we would like to have a campus with acres and acres, when you build schools in urban areas, you tend to build up. Those are some of the tradeoffs that you have to deal with.”