Ballooning costs to repair the elevator at police/fire headquarters are scheduled to prompt a discussion of much broader issues with that building and the Civic Center at Monday night’s Evanston City Council meeting.

Last fall Colley Elevator Co. of Bensonville estimated it would cost $177,000 to repair the elevator, which was struggling to reach the second floor of the building.

The headquarters was completed in 1949 without an elevator, and the elevator was added in 1985.

After repair work began, city staff says, contractors discovered that the concrete block walls surrounding the elevator were not secured to the rest of the building at the second floor level and were being held in place only by the rail the elevator runs on.

So the city agreed this spring to spend an additional $245,300 to rebuild the second floor walls and investigate the condition of the block walls on the first floor and basement.

And you can guess what happened next. The contractors discovered that the rest of the walls were also in bad shape and need to be reconstructed correctly from the foundation up.

New repair cost estimate — $1 million to $1.5 million.

The project is expected to take seven to nine months and may require relocation of the men’s lockup, the evidence processing room and other facilities in the building.

In a memo to the Council, City Engineer Lara Biggs notes that the headquarters building was designed for roughly 100 employees but now houses about 220 police and fire department workers.

The building also doesn’t comply with Americans with Disabilities Act rules, Biggs says, and the layout and limited space make it impossible to bring the building into compliance.

City staff estimate that the police/fire headquarters building will need $5.5 million in additional repairs over the next five years.

In 2021 staff estimated needed improvements at the Civic Center exceed $23 million.

In October 2021 the the City Council voted 5-4 to spend $367,000 on a consulting report from AECOM studying the feasibility of building a new civic center and police and fire headquarters somewhere in or near downtown.

Fans of having city staff remain in the existing Civic Center building tried but failed to derail the AECOM contract after the Council vote.

Last June the AECOM contract was amended to add consideration of building a new police headquarters adjacent to the existing Civic Center.

That study apparently has not yet been completed, but Biggs says the consultant has provided staff with “potential options” for renovating or relocating the two buildings and will seek “additional feedback” from council members Monday night to help “refine the recommendations.”

In recent years the city has replaced its Robert Crown Community Center and is has approved plans to build a new Animal Shelter.

But Biggs says that major facilities issues also need to be addressed at the Ecology Center, the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the Service Center.

The council meeting is scheduled to start at 6:45 p.m. at the Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why was there never any public conversation about putting the Fifth Ward School in the Civic Center?

    it is a historic site in the fifth ward, used to be a school, and has plenty of green space in Ingraham Park (and a block away at Noyes). Yes, the upkeep costs are significant, but probably no more than building a new school.

    1. And to this point, the greenest building is one that doesn’t need to be built but reused/repurposed.

  2. Without a doubt the City needs to have a Civic Center, and HQ for police and fire. I have no opinion on whether it is better to repair what they have or build new.

    I do urge City Council to contemplate the political challenges of having to maintain properties before it moves to acquire anything new, especially if it is not essential for the city government to function. A specific case is the idea brought up last year of buying a developing property to manage as affordable housing ( When it is new it may well be fine. But over time it will require maintenance just like the current city buildings including Harley Clark.
    Making the city into a landlord is especially challenging when it becomes necessary to increase rent to fund the operation. Just imagine the public comment session when this comes up.
    I would ask alders to consider what they would do if they could go back in time to 1965 and give advice to the City Council before they chose to buy the Harley Clarke mansion. Would they say, “If you do this then future city councils will not be willing to charge enough rent to maintain the building and it will become unsafe to use. The city will then be stuck with a valuable piece of lakefront property that it cannot use because there is never enough agreement do do anything that is financially viable”?

  3. City staff have been out for decades to move to a fine new modern building. No one seems to be willing to recognize that staying where they are, in more than ample space, is far more sustainable than building new. It doesn’t matter what it costs to repair this or that, they (we) own the structure and the land, and that is a hurdle that no new building can beat.

  4. Hi all:

    I agree that the Evanston Elevator situation is the tip of the iceberg. I’m glad that there is some awakening among City Council members that Capital improvements: updating, restoring, as well as regular maintenance is key and a responsibility of the City for all City owned and managed properties. The budgeting and funding for this demands that it take precedence over new future demands. Otherwise, you have no ability to ever balance your budget. I agree that getting an assessment of cost is necessary and a comparison of costs between building new facilities versus repairing older ones. But the price tag on these assessments of hundreds of thousands are wasted if there is no decision making and implementation. I believe this is our second or third time paying for such an assessment that involved the Civic Center, which if not utilized is equivalent to throwing a million plus dollars down the toilet. We seem to be good at spending public funds and then complaining that we don’t have enough money.

    I think the animal hospital is important but not the highest of priorities. Therefore, it should be put on the back burner. Additionally, I think that the plan to spend 10 million on such a facility is ridiculous given the number of potential demands we have on our finances. As well as the 1 million dollar skating park? Really? Why not invest that money in educational activities, since we’ve already indicated the significance of our schools. We don’t have an endless pot of money and the sooner we learn to manage our finances fairly, equitably and responsibly, the sooner we are able to come together as a stronger community and attract more people to living in Evanston. As a realtor, my experience is that many shy away from Evanston because of its lack of cohesive policy, and poor governance. Without Northwestern, we would not be able to stand on our own two feet. We have to start acting maturely and responsibly in our interactions, be willing to listen, but also to speak without being attacked. We are all different and I am a believer in fiscal responsibility first, and charity second.

  5. There’s plenty of vacant office space in downtown Evanston. Why buy and build when you can lease? Downtown needs the office workers. A win-win for all.

    Sell the land and building, use the proceeds for the new space buildout, and bank the difference for a rainy day.

    Problem solved.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *