Evanston aldermen will get a staff proposal tonight to spend $270,000 to make emergency life-safety repairs to the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion and conduct a more comprehensive study of the building.

The proposal, from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, tackles some of the issues raised in a report the consulting firm McGuire Igleski & Associates submitted to the city 15 months ago.

That report suggested at least $430,000 in mechanical, electrical and plumbing work was needed to correct code deficiencies involving the existing use of the building by the Evanston Arts Center.

And it concluded that, depending on the planned future use of the building, several times as much money might need to be spent to comply with code requirements for those different uses.

The EAC’s basement kiln room in a photo included in last year’s report from the city consultants.

The new report this month from city staff recommends that the art center stop using the gas-fired ceramics kilns in the basement. It says the kilns are not in a fire-rated room and are not designed to adequately handle the heat and fumes produced by their operation.

The staff report suggests spending about $170,000 to upgrade the building’s electrical distribution and fire alarm system, improve ventilation on the lower level and make some plumbing improvements.

It also calls for spending between $50,000 and $100,000 to complete a more comprehensive site evaluation and future land use study.

The city manager suggests in a memo that under its 1996 lease with the city, the arts center should have made the electrical and ventilation system improvements no later than 2006.

The arts center has been considering relocating to some other site in the city for some time, but so far hasn’t announced where that new site would be.

In the memo Bobkiewicz also asks aldermen to more clearly define the uses they’re willing to consider for the mansion and its surrounding property and whether those include ones that might require zoning changes from the current “open space” zoning.

Whatever the Human Services Committee decides tonight will need to go to the full City Council, probably later this month, for approval.

Related document

Committee packet with Harley Clarke mansion documents (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Another scare tactic from Evanston

    Remember when Evanston officials closed the Dawes mansion because city officials claimed the home needed millions in repairs and upgrades?

    It happened just as the Evanston History Center's lease in the building was to expire. Northwestern wanted to take over the building but later backed away when it was clear the mansion belonged to the public. After Northwestern backed down from taking over the Dawes mansion, the mansion reopened. Yes, there were some repairs to the foundation but when it opened many of the code violations the Evanston Fire Department initially pointed out still remained even the electrical system. 

    Most homes in Evanston would not meet all of the current building codes and that includes electrical. This is a ploy by city management to scare aldermen into thinking that these code violations must all be fixed now. I wonder if the city included the mandatory repairs when it went out for bids to sell or rent the building.

    Based on the city's track record of the Dawes and Harley Clarke mansions I say, don't trust but verify anyway.

  2. Nimbys must raise the cash

    While many homes may not meet all current codes that is irrelevant.  Those deficiencies will be mandated to updates when they become "known" through inspections or permits pulled for renovation, etc.

    Why should either the History Center or the Dawes House be allowed any occupancy with "known" building code / life safety issues?  How does the City get a pass when no business or resident would get the same.

    All NIMBYS who fought the Dawes sale are responsible for raising the cash to bring all "known" violations up to code.  Any home that planted a yard sign should be designated into a special service taxing district that will impose extra r.e. taxes upon those homes to cover the payments needed to make those repairs. 

    Those who opposed the sale of that property have a responsiblility to put their money where their mouths are.   

    I expect the recent NIMBY gathering at the Civic center will also raise a good half million cash upfront.


  3. The Dawes House is not the Harley Clarke Mansion

    The city is not responsible for any of the repairs ongoing at the Evanston History Center.  There were significant upgrades to the Dawes house prior to the reopening to the public.  Perhaps you have noticed the mechanical upgrades ongoing at the Dawes Property, there are NO city dollars being spent there.   Please refrain from painting these two properties with the same brush.

    1. Dawes house

      Dawes House is owned by Northwestern, who has a multi-BILLION dollar endowment.

      The Harley Clark mansion was ceded to the city by NU after housing NU's SAE fraternity for many years.

      This came about largely by the hard work of a local sculptor, Katie O'Neil. 

      The grove of trees just north of Clark Street beach, which was *given* to NU for their new welcome center, should have been ceded in exchange for NU upgrading the art center.

      (See recent Wall St Journal article about all the schools…not NU, of course…who give lots of money to their host cities.)

      1. Facts would be nice …

        The comment above contains several factual errors …
        1. Northwestern does not own the Dawes House. It used to, but it transferred ownership to the Evanston History Center.
        2. Northwestern never owned the Harley Clarke mansion. It was owned by the Sigma Chi fraternity and used for its headquarters offices. The fraternity sold the mansion to the city.
        3. Most of the trees referred to are on NU property. The city gave the school a temporary construction easement, not the long-term lease that had originally been proposed, for the area adjacent to the visitor center that is city-owned land.
        — Bill
      2. Reasons billionaires are billionaires

        One of the reasons organizations and individuals become billionaires is because they do not throw their money away on poor investments. The Harley Clark Mansion, with all the current list of "can't do's", is a very bad investment. Unless it can be commercialized, it's a lost cause from a financial standpoint. From a factual basis, NU has never owned Harley Clarke and is not responsible for its condition.

        Besides, the place has been for sale for almost two years. Wouldn't an angel billionaire who wants to buy the place, reburbish it and set up a sinking fund for maintenance only to "donate" it to the City have shown up by now?

        Northwestern University does a great deal for Evanston.  I, for one, am sick of the NU bashing. We either want to run them out  for noise, buses or whatever or go to them hat in hand to fund our shortfalls. Their graduates stay here, buy homes, pay taxes and build businesses. In my opinion, NU is a good neighbor who brings discretionary income, restores our population base and produces graduates that create jobs in Evanston. I, for one, am glad they are here.

  4. Previous delays only added to these costs

    What is not being conceded by City is that most of these issues are not new, but have existed for years. The City has failed to make necessary repairs for years to the exterior of these buildings and now the chickens have come home to roost.

    Secondly. of course, is the fact that those items listed in the article such as "code deficiencies" relate to the "present use' of the building, i.e., the Evanston Art Center. That means that these are deficinecies or needs specifically related to the present building use, but not necessarily related to some other uses that might arise if the EAC leaves, as they have announced.

    That, of course, brings us to the matter of what was and continues to be the responsiblity of the Art Center versus that of the City. The Art Center has claimed they spend lots of money on upkeep, but it would appear they have never made these necessary repairs on their own or made sure they comply with building codes relating to their use of the spaces in the building. I had understood for years that costs related to the interior and their occupancy were to be their responsiblity especially since they were only paying $1 per year rent.

    Who was guarding the chicken coop while they had free rein to allow matters deteriorate?


  5. Choice

    The city should ask the arts center to pay for the repairs or make the repairs and bill the art center with interest. If the art center is truely responsible in their contract, the contract should be honored. The other choices are tear down the building or reconsider selling the building while retaining ownership of the beach, parking, and beach access. Do not make the taxpayers pay for what was a win win Pritzker deal.

  6. What about EAC?

    Has anyone considered approaching the EAC to help underwrite these repairs?

    What is their responsibility here, after all they have occupied the mansion for literally nothing for decades.

    Some of the onus has to be put on them to underwrite these repair needs.

    Or is EAC just going to go away to find the next rent free dwelling for the next 30 years until that facility decays?

  7. A good investment… if

    Making the necessary repairs and maintenance to the mansion is a good investment… Especially if they solicit bids from Evanston based contractors… that way the money would stay in the community!

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas

    1. It is not a question of a good or bad investment

      Let's be clear, repairing the mansion is not about whether or not the necessary maintenance it is a good "investment."

      This property has been neglected for decades and it will take millions of tax dollars to get it into decent shape.

      Now is the time for all of those people who protested 'the mansion sale' to donate directly to it's maintenance!

      Heck, they could even fund a plaque with their names on it! People seem to love that. The CIty has the names and addresses of all of the people that spoke in favor of keeping it.

      I think that each alderman that voted to keep the property should divvy up that list, and call each and every one of them to ask for a donation to fund the current neglected maintenance, and a separate fund for the ongoing and purpetual maintainance that an historic building like that requires.

      People (including the alderman) need to start putting their own money where their mouths are.

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