The City Council took the first step Monday night toward approving District 65’s plan for a neighborhood school in the Fifth Ward.

Members voted to introduce the school district’s construction and zoning applications for the project, along with feedback provided to the architect from the city’s Land Use Commission. The council will vote on final approval for the building at its next meeting May 22.

With documents and other materials related to District 65’s plans now submitted into public record, council members have endorsed a number of recommendations from the Land Use Commission and added a few of their own amendments, which primarily center on parking, transportation, green space and sustainability at the school.

The commission’s requirements for construction and planning include the following:

  • Pedestrian and traffic circulation plan to be submitted to the city within three months of the project’s final approval
  • Construction management plan “to include how the restoration of adjacent properties will be accomplished as a result of proposed construction activities”
  • Active Transportation Safety Initiative to educate kids attending the school on safely walking or biking to school
  • Consideration of potential parking alternatives:
    • Encourage staff to take public transit to work through incentive programs
    • Work with the city on shared parking at the Ecology Center and/or Civic Center
    • Develop a Shared Use Agreement with the city for sharing the school parking lot with staff at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center
    • Establish “very short-term parking” with one-hour limits along Ashland Avenue
  • Pedestrian path through the school parking lot
  • Multiple designated pickup and drop-off locations
  • Make the playing field on the site natural grass, instead of artificial turf
  • Safe walkway connecting the playing field to the Family Focus building next to the school site
  • Permeable pavers made of brick on the 83-space, on-site parking lot to prevent flooding and improve stormwater management

On May 1, Alex Lopez, the lead architect on the project with firm Cordogan Clark, wrote a letter to Evanston Neighborhood and Land Use Planner Meagan Jones in response to these proposed requirements. In that note, Lopez said District 65 could fulfill all of the recommendations except the permeable pavers for the parking lot.

“We understand that the request for brick pavers was borne out of a question regarding storm water management of the site. Please note that storm water will be managed 100% on-site via two underground storm water detention systems – one under the play area and the second one under the parking area,” he wrote in the letter, which is viewable on page 482 of the May 8 City Council meeting packet. “The impact on the surrounding properties will be zero.”

The parking impact on the neighborhood and surrounding area remained top of mind for the council Monday night. Fourth Ward Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma added an amendment, passed by the full council, that will require District 65 and Cordogan Clark to at least “explore” meeting LEED Gold certification and the city’s Bird-Friendly Building Design ordinance.

At a meeting last month, Lopez and outgoing District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said the district was committed to achieving LEED Gold or Silver status.

“The building permit is issued by the state, so they [the district] do not have to meet any of our CARP [Climate Action and Resilience Plan] requirements,” Council Member Juan Geracaris (9th Ward) said Monday. “But this would just say that they are making their best effort to get as good as they can in the LEED certification and those other goals.”

To enhance parking space, drop-off and pickup safety, the city is also asking the district to increase the width of Ashland Avenue by 10 feet, from 24 feet to 34 feet.

That proposal, which Cordogan Clark has agreed to, will save the trees on the east side of Ashland Avenue, though many of the trees lining the west side of the street will have to be taken down as part of the effort to widen the road. The landscape designer that Cordogan Clark is using has suggested removing about 20 trees and planting about 35 new ones, for a net gain of about 15 trees.

Meanwhile, District 65 has commissioned a transportation study, completed by consulting firm KLOA, and a housing market impact study from real estate appraiser MaRous & Co. The market impact research found that there is “no market data indicating the project will have a negative impact on residential property values.”

According to the transportation analysis, the district intends to stagger school start times, with Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies beginning on-site at 8 a.m. each morning and the Fifth Ward neighborhood school starting classes at 9 a.m. Officials have said they hope that will help minimize some of the traffic congestion in the area during morning and afternoon hours.

Still, KLOA projected that some surrounding intersections “will experience some additional delays and longer queues” that are “inherent with all schools given their fixed start and end times,” according to its study.

For overflow parking, KLOA suggested exploring street parking options in the community or working out a deal with Family Focus to use some of its land.

“On-street parking surveys show that a total of over 400 on-street parking spaces are located within several blocks of the school,” KLOA said in its study. “In addition, the parking surveys indicated that approximately 250 of the parking spaces (60 percent) were available around the arrival and dismissal times of the 5th Ward Neighborhood School. Therefore, sufficient on-street parking is available within a several block radius of the school to accommodate the dropoff/pick-up operations.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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