Evanston aldermen tonight voted to have city staff prepare estimates of what it would cost to make minimal repairs to the Civic Center to make the building safe for city workers.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, proposed the new approach, saying it’s clear taxpayers can’t afford the roughly $50 million latest estimates say it would cost to completely rehab the existing building or build a new city hall elsewhere.

In addition, she noted, despite years of effort, the City Council has failed to agree on a site for a new building.

Tisdahl suggested the scope of work should include replacing the building’s roof and tuck pointing the exterior to stop leaks and cleaning up mold problems caused by the leaks.

“Let’s make the building healthy,” Tisdahl said, “but just do the minimum to provide workers with a healthy and safe environment until we’re in a financial position to come up with a better solution.” She suggested $6 million might cover the essential work.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said Tisdahl’s proposal “doesn’t make any sense.”

He said having employees in the building while work was underway would subject them “to the most unhealthy atmosphere imaginable.” He said he feared it would lead to “a huge number of lawsuits” by city workers.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that what had looked like good options for a new Civic Center have evaporated, construction costs “have shot into outer space” and the public safety pension problem has added millions of dollars of new expense to the city budget.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste suggested dropping all plans for a move. “My position is to invest in this building and stay here.”

“The reason we have not moved is we have not had a place to move to,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Let’s make a decision, minimize the cost and be firm in terms of direction. We have no reasonable alternative.”

Facilities Superintendent Dave Cook said that so far the only mold that has been found in the building has been innocuous. “It’s bread mold,” he said. But he added that unless the roof leaks are fixed, mold will continue to build up, and some of it could be hazardous.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he feared that whatever initial cost estimates were developed for a minimalist rehab project would escalate dramatically, as the cost estimates have for full-scale rehab and building a new Civic Center.

City Manager Julia Carroll said that borrowing about $50 million to completely rehab the building or construct a new one would require payments of $3 million to $3.4 million a year for 30 years, depending on interest rates at the time the bonds were sold.
That would increase the city’s total property tax levy by 8 to 9 percent, on top of the 7 percent increase approved by the council in February for the current fiscal year.

Tisdahl’s motion was approved 8-1, with Moran casting the only dissenting vote.

The new staff report is expected to be ready in about 60 days.

John Kennedy of the Friends of the Civic Center group that has urged staying in the current building said he congratulated the council on the decision to take the new approach.

The council has been considering alternatives for the Civic Center for at least the past 10 years. The city moved into the building about 30 years ago after a rehab job that converted it from its original use as a Catholic school for girls.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. “Cheap Fix” for Civic Center
    Calling the Civic Center Committee’s vote to repair the Civic Center a vote for a “Cheap Fix” is a cheap shot in place of even-handed reporting. What the Council voted to do was the only responsible decision, reflected in the 8-1 vote in favor. The City can’t commit to spending money it doesn’t have or borrow money it can’t afford to repay.

    1. Over-interpretation
      Hi Dan,
      Gosh, I thought you were going to complain that $6 million isn’t cheap!

      Your imagination is overactive if you read criticism of Tisdahl’s proposal into the headline.

      — Bill

  2. About time!
    The Council has neglected the Civic Center long enough. It’s about time the tide has turned and congratulations to Alderman Tisdahl for making a rational proposal.

    There is absolutely no excuse for the neglect that has taken place in the last decade or more. It’s an particularly frustrating to watch the City operate above the laws it creates and holds everyone else accountable to. We do have minimum property standards in this town, after all.

  3. Finally – Some positive action from the City Council
    Finally! Some positive action on the Civic Center embarrassment. The City has basically been a slum landlord for the last 5 or 6 years – and Eb Moran is seemly in favor of letting this deterioration continue in the name of safety for workers! Amazing.

    Although each and every one of the City Council members should be ashamed of allowing this to continue for so long – at least they finally seem to be doing the right thing – the thing that they make other property owners do much more quickly: Maintain the buildings that they own.

    1. Empty Nesters
      Although each and every one of the City Council members should be ashamed of allowing this to continue for so long – at least they finally seem to be doing the right thing – the thing that they make other property owners do much more quickly: Maintain the buildings that they own.

      Or they could do what many property owners do when a building no longer meets their needs and upkeep is too expensive – sell it and move to a smaller place that requires less maintenance.

  4. Congratulations to Tisdahl
    I congratulate Ald. Tisdahl for coming up with this idea, which is currently the only sensible solution to the Civic Cinter dilemma, given the City’s financial predicament. I also congratulate the seven Council members who voted with Ald. Tisdahl. I would like to express my deep disappointment that my own alderman, Eb Moran, cast the lone dissenting vote.

  5. I am so confused. Can someone please explain?
    I am so confused on what is taking place here… Can someone paint the high level historiy of the whole debate over the years?

    I am very happy with this proposal and to know that the tax payer’s money is not being spent on unneccesary things as neglecting other critical items like pension fund for police and FD.

    After all what was the original reason to move or rehab the city center? I thought it was because the estimate of fix to retain the building was extreamly high. And the public was informed that building new structure may be mroe cost effective.

    Was the estimate around $20 to 40 million to complete necessary fix? Now they are settling on $6 million to provide necessity fix?

    I question what the original motive of move and rehab. If necessary work can be done in less than $10 millon, why did so many people spend so much time and resoruce to discuss all kinds options over $50 millon. If it was in fact only less than $10 millon to provide necessary fix, the correct decision seems to be so obvious. What is the reason to have all these emotional lengthy discussion over several years to waste time and money?

    It seems to be unresponsible for city official to spend so much of tax payer to have nice to have things that is not really necessray.

    Who is speaking the truth? Which information is correct? Whose infromation can public rely on?

    Was the original proposal before the city and public became aware of financial crisis with pension funds? Or from the late 1990s when the economy was thriving and Evanston had access $ to spend?

    I can not remember the origianl reason of rehab and new building proosal since so many different fact and nubmers came out throughout
    Imagine that all those time and resource spent for this topic was used for FD and police pension soluiton discussion among city and residence…. We may have been able to find a way to raise funding to reduce debt for pension.

    Too bad we spend so much time and money on uncessary things.

    the whole process.

    I am so confused on what is taking place here… Can someone explain the high level historiy this whole discussion that now appears to be completely wasted time….

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