Open letter to school and health officials: Prioritizing green design will mend historic Fifth Ward injustices

Dear Dr. Horton, Mr. Obafemi, and School Board,

The Fifth Ward school was borne out of District 65’s and Evanston’s admirable insistence that we must start the process of mending the injustices that the Fifth Ward community has suffered over the decades.

A rendering of the potential building exterior of the Fifth Ward school. Credit: Duncan Agnew

By prioritizing what we typically term “green building” in its design, District 65 has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that this school is a testament to community healing and health.

Evanston’s 2022 Process for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN) concluded that Fifth Ward residents have a life expectancy that is 6.5 years less than that of the average Evanston resident (and a whopping 13 years less than the longest living residents).

While this astounding difference is due to many factors, we know that chronic health conditions are not equitably distributed. The new Fifth Ward school building is a chance for District 65 to show its commitments to both the educational and health outcomes of these students and the greater community.

As Ms. Janet Alexander stated in her letter to the RoundTable, “…this can’t be just any school.” If we’re going to bring this community up to a level playing field, the design can’t be anything but one that centers environmental health and wellbeing principles and uses these as an overarching compass. 

According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, by the time a student graduates from high school, they’ll have spent 15,600 hours inside a school, an amount of time second only to that spent at home.

Environmental health considerations in schools include exposures to allergens, pollutants, chemicals (such as VOCs), and classroom conditions such as ventilation, lighting, acoustics, and temperature considerations.  

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