Land Use Commission OKs new 5th ward school plans after discussion of parking, green space


Elisa Huang/The Daily Northwestern

The Foster Field. The new Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school in the 5th Ward will share the field with the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.

Kate Walter, City Assistant Editor

The Evanston Land Use Commission voted 5-2 to recommend the proposed 5th Ward K-8 school plans after discussing parking availability, traffic congestion and new green spaces at Wednesday’s public hearing meeting. 

The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education voted unanimously last March to build a new school in the 5th Ward. It will be built next to Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center at 2000 Simpson Street and is set to open in the 2025-2026 academic year. 

The newest plans for the school were announced April 13. After obtaining approval from the commission, the plans will now head to City Council. 

“The building of a new school in the Fifth Ward to serve kindergarten through eighth grade students is part of the district’s comprehensive vision for the future,” said Sergio Hernandez, the current president of the D65 school board, on Wednesday. 

Alex Lopez, an architect at Cordogan Clark, an architecture and engineering firm, outlined the latest plan for the new school building. The school will also house the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, a magnet school. 

They chose to include Bessie Rhodes, which is currently located in Skokie, because the majority of students who attend Bessie Rhodes reside in the 5th Ward, according to Raphael Obafemi, the D65 chief financial and operations officer. He said they predict that 800 to 900 children will use the building between the 5th ward school and Bessie Rhodes. 

The plans for the school include an L-shaped, three-story, 115,000-square-foot building and an artificial turf field on what is now Foster Field. Lopez said the district also proposed an open-parking location in the front yard and additional parking spaces in the plan. 

While the initial building plan included four stories, Lopez said the firm decided to remove a floor after community discussion about constructing a smaller building.  

Lopez said the lot next to Fleetwood Jourdain offered the largest available land already owned by the district in the ward. He said the architect used a formula to determine the appropriate size of an adaptable educational “21st century building.” 

 “One of the things that we look at as school designers is, what is the school going to look like in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years,” Lopez said.  

There has not been a neighborhood elementary or middle school in the 5th Ward, which is predominantly Black, for more than 50 years. Children in the 5th Ward are currently bussed to other elementary schools in the area because of the absence of a school in the ward.

After city staff opted not to move Fleetwood-Jourdain, Lozpez said the firm reached an agreement with Fleetwood-Jourdain to share amenities with the community center including the parking lot, play fields, playground and basketball court. 

Commission member Kristine Westerberg wondered how the new school would deal with increased traffic congestion. In a previous session, the commission decided against an underground parking structure. 

Lopez said the structure would have cost $7 to $10 million and would offer fewer spots than the parking lot included in the proposed plan. The current plan puts forth 83 additional parking spaces, with discussions in the works with Family Focus to expand parking availability in their own plot.

Michael Werthmann, a civil engineering consultant at the traffic engineering firm KOLA, said the firm conducted a traffic survey for the proposed school, and said they believe most children will walk to school. He also said the firm proposed staggered pick up and drop off times and before and after school programs to help reduce traffic. 

Lopez said the safety of the students was the architects’ key consideration.  

“One thing (they) looked at from the very beginning is the safety of children, ” Lopez said, pointing to the implementation of walking routes and the decision to place the play field in the center of the school campus. 

Obafemi also said they hired additional crossing guards to prioritize children’s safety. 

During public comment, several residents voiced concerns about the proposal to use artificial turf for the new field, saying the material presents an increased risk of cancer. 

Evanston resident Cecile McHugh said turf can get very hot and contains forever chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, that don’t break down naturally and can lead to health problems. 

“Artificial turf is a huge step backwards,” McHugh said. “Children who go to school deserve natural green space.”

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Twitter: @katewalter03

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