After a three-hour meeting, the Evanston Land Use Commission voted 5-2  on April 19 to recommend that the City Council approve major variations that would be needed to build a 5th Ward school campus at 2000 Simpson St.

Some issues in the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 proposal remain vague, however, commission members acknowledged.

District 65 School Board President Sergio Hernandez introduced the proposal by praising the “process of returning a public school to the city’s Fifth Ward community.” Officials hope to have the school ready by the 2024-25 academic year. 

Alex Lopez, associate vice president and education design leader with the architectural firm Cordogan Clark & Associates, discussed the logistics of the proposal as well as the variations needed. 

The complex, which would contain both a K-8 elementary school and the Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School, would be centered around a large playing field.

Officials maintain that having the field at the center of the complex, away from the street, would be safer for students. District 65 has owned the land for several years. The space is abutted by the Fleetwood-Jourdain community center and the Family Focus social services agency. 

Among variances needed, according to the proposal, are a Floor Area Ratio of .62 versus a maximum is 0.15; a proposed height of three stories at 55 feet versus 2.5 stories or 35 feet maximum; an open parking location within the front yard; a loading area located in the required front yard; a loading area abutting a residential district and not screened; and a loading area dimension located within the drive aisle width of the parking lot.  

Lopez said an atrium space in the complex would reach a height of about 55 feet, but most of the school would be 45 feet – about 15 feet per floor. District 65 expects the school to serve 800 to 900 students, and Lopez said officials originally planned a fourth floor, but now deem it unnecessary.

A number of residents, many of whom acknowledged the need for a school in the area, nevertheless voiced concerns about issues such as the size of the building and traffic on nearby streets.

District 65 officials and their architects have presented only schematic plans (the first phase of the design process), but nearly all the commissioners emphasized that much work remains to ensure that the building does not appear as monolithic as it does in plans, and that local traffic will not be negatively affected by school drop-offs and pick-ups.

Prior to the commission vote, Commission Chair Matt Rodgers asserted that, “We’re not here to sit in judgement of whether or not there should be a school in the Fifth Ward.”

D65 officials maintain that most students will walk to the school. Raphael Obafemi, the district’s chief financial and operating officer, said, “Every student should have the right to walk to school.”   

The proposal came to the commission with some 19 additional recommendations from city staff, and the commission added several more. Rodgers admitted that he was uncomfortable passing along guidance with so many caveats already attached by city officials.

“These are some of the things we like to have in place before they come to us,” said Rodgers, who did ultimately vote to pass along a recommendation. The two “no” votes were cast by Commissioners Kiril Mirintchev and Brian Johnson. 

“I think there are too many unknowns,” said Mirintchev of the proposal. He said during the meeting that he was concerned about traffic patterns as well as storm water management. 

One matter may be resolved thanks to the commission’s decision: whether or not the field is made up of artificial turf. D65’s schematics indicated that such turf might be used, and some audience members spoke out against it, referencing various reports that it could be carcinogenic. The commission added the recommendation that natural grass be specified when the proposal finally gets before the City Council.

One neighborhood resident spoke at length about how she would be negatively impacted by the school, since her view of the field that is there — which she said attracted tenants to her rental property — would be destroyed. 

Some commissioners, however, were reluctant to accept her argument. “This is open-space zoning and the owner has the right to ask for variances,” said Commissioner Kristine Westerberg, who later added, “A lot of work needs to be done on [the proposal] before it goes before the council.”

Commissioner Myrna Arevalo was adamant about the need for the new school.   

“I’m an actual resident of the Fifth Ward,” she said. “I don’t have any kids, but this school is very needed. … A lot of times you have to give up your comfort level to help the community — because we are a community.”

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  1. Your reporter hasn’t report right, my tenant aren’t going to be affected just by view but more by light noise traffic parking…, my building is 45 feet to ridge, it will be in complete shadow, do you rent apartment when there is such a tall and wide wall stick to your nose, neighborhood also doesn’t have open space and playing field, every body had to travel south, weather in chicagoland always either windy or rainy or snowy…who says children mostly walk, opposite, mostly ride, school location wrong, too close to Double Clutch Bar also to Kingsly and Haven school better make distance, district own other properties or can buy by selling their share of foster field to city and city from 1 million dollar they are obligated to pay State for tennis court if relocated, if school in Foster Field then should be as far from bar instead of Fleetwood Jordain center because that building need so much repair…..