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Back to the future: Talk of new Civic Center

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Told that Evanston’s Civic Center needs perhaps as much as $17 million in repairs and upgrades, Evanston aldermen Monday night revived an idea buried for a decade — building a new city hall.

In a capital budget presentation City Engineer Lara Biggs said the century-old former school building needs at least $7 million in upgrades to its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

And she said electrical and other systems work and reconfiguration to better utilize space in the building could add another $5 million to $10 million in expenses — and should be done at the same time as the HVAC work to avoid having to redo work on the HVAC system to make it conform to the new layout.

The problems with the systems “have been known for 20 years, and our ability to patch things is likely coming to an end,” Biggs added.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the City Council voted years ago to leave the Civic Center and “now’s the time to revisit that issue.”

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said the aldermen need to have a detailed discussion about whether to stay.

The Civic Center has roughly 120,000 gross square feet of space spread across five floors. And the city now rents out portions of the building to non-profit agencies.

A 1998 study by Doyle  Associates suggested the city needs less than 70,000 square feet of space for its own offices and meeting rooms.

But a 2007 study by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill said the city needed roughly as much space as exists in the current building.

After about a decade of studying the issue, the Council disbanded its Civic Center Committee, opted to replace the building’s roof and keep patching the rest of its systems.

Disputes over how to finance a new building, where to put it, whether to demolish the existing building and what to replace it with if it were demolished ultimately led to the decision to keep muddling along with the existing structure.

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