Evanston aldermen conceded tonight that their ballot question claiming it would cost $31 million to rehab the Civic Center probably overstates the cost of the job.

The figures, from a report submitted by city consultant U.S. Equities, reach the $31 million figure by including $6.3 million to build a 300-car parking garage and $3.1 million to relocate city offices while the rehab is underway.

The proposal also anticipated demolishing the oldest part of the Civic Center — the south wing, built in 1909 — and replacing it with a new structure housing a new City Council Chamber. It pegs the cost of demolition, new construction and restoration of the 1920s section of the building at $20.1 million.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she doesn’t believe the city would really needs to build a parking garage, and could get by with an expansion of the existing parking lot, which already holds 225 cars. Public Works Director David Jennings said the parking lot expansion would probably cost about $250,000.

Most of the aldermen seemed to agree that the parking garage isn’t essential, but Ald. Tisdahl’s contention that city staff could remain in the building while rehab work was underway was challenged by City Manager Julia Carroll.

“We’re talking a gut rehab to make effective use of the space,” Ms. Carroll said, “it’s probably possible to do it in place, but it would be very inconvenient. I’d much rather take the path of movin out for a year or two.”

John Kennedy of the Friends of the Civic Center group that collected petitions to place another referendum on the ballot urging aldermen to keep the current building the headquarters of city government said he welcomed a dialog with the council and city staff to develop an agreement about what a rehab job would cost.

He said he’s spoken with the developer of the Malinckrodt, an 80-year-old girl’s school in Wilmette being converted to condominiums, who said his rehab cost runs about $130 per square foot — or about $13 million for a building the size of the Civic Center.

Other speakers said they favored building a new Civic Center on the city’s west side.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste said the aldermen are now committed to seeing the Civic Center preserved — which meets a major goal of the ‘Friends’ group — and the debate now is only over whether the building should continue to house city offices.

“If it doesn’t make sense economically to move, then we won’t make that move,” Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “Why try to tie the staff and the council’s feet in trying to resolve these issues?”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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