After years of debate, Evanston aldermen Monday voted 7-1 to seek proposals from contractors to replace the Civic Center roof.

The roof repair project has been snarled in controversy with many aldermen arguing the city should build a new civic center rather than fix up the existing building, portions of which are nearly a century old.

But with a growing unfunded public safety pension liability pressing on the city’s funding ability and the slowdown in the real estate market dampening prospects for a big financial gain from selling the current building a majority of aldermen concluded recently that the roof repair project — expected to cost about $2.5 million — can no longer be delayed.

The only holdout last night was Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, who called the project “a pig in a poke that we’ll be paying a lot of money for.”

But Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “While we want to build a new building, we can’t afford to.”

“For five years people have been working in this building in conditions that would lead us to close it down if it was owned by anybody else but us,” Tisdahl said.

“We need to have a roof that doesn’t leak over the heads of city staff,” she added.

The community group Friends of the Civic Center has argued against a new building and pushed for a phased approach to renovating the existing structure.

Friends President John Kennedy said, “Hopefully, the city will continue to move forward with other needed repairs and renovations to make this grand old building a source of pride within our community.”

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. phased in repair
    The community group Friends of the Civic Center has argued against a new building and pushed for a phased approach to renovating the existing structure.

    Friends President John Kennedy said, “Hopefully, the city will continue to move forward with other needed repairs and renovations to make this grand old building a source of pride within our community.”

    It seems that when it comes to building a new Civic Center, Mr. Kennedy just throws out a lump sum ( 55-70 million), as if the city would have to pay that amount immediately.

    When the issue is keeping and repairing the “historic” former Marywood building, however, they are willing to discuss a ‘phased approach’.

    This makes it appear that keeping the current Civic Center is less expensive than replacing it. $70 million due now (a bogus inflated figure) for a new building may appear to be less expensive than $8 million per year to repair and maintain the existing building, but it is not a fair comparison.

    I think that the Friends of the Old Marywood Building just don’t understand the concept of presevent value of money.

    1. phased out logic
      Mr Who Knows What? is apparently less cognizant of financial matters than even our City Council. Even the City Council, except for a few laggards, has come to the realization that the money is not there for a new center.

      As for the $50 to $70 million being bogus or inflated, how often has the City correctly estimated a project cost? Are the consultants telling falsehoods? It was real financial acumen that got us into a hole for $140 million, er, $ 145 million, and climbing, pension debacle.

      The money for a new Civic Center is an immediate obligation. Since the City does not have the money, the City would have to issue bonds, which BTW we would have to pay back — you know a debt — and by we, I mean taxpayers. Adding that to the present underfunded pension obligation should make Moody very happy about our bond rating.

      I think that Mr Who Knows What? just does not understand the concept of not only presevent (BTW present) value of money, much less basic budgets.

      Are you prepping for a Council seat?

      1. You don’t know what you’re talking about
        Vito – you clearly shouldn’t be speaking for Moody’s. You are way off base in terms of how we would view borrowing for such a project.

        1. Moody
          Shawn,

          I am not speaking for Moody’s, or any rating agency. I don’t have a connection. I am on the board of a credit union and any potential borrowers would not improve their FICO score by adding substantial debt.

          All I am saying is that given the city’s current underfunded obligations, adding another 40% to 50%, should not make any rating agency look more favorably. Of course raising taxes significantly to make up for past poor financial decisions might alleviate that, but I doubt it would make taxpayers happy. We have a few, and increasing, number of municipalities that have declared bankruptcy, which should be a warning.

  2. Finally — a sane decision from the City Council
    I am not involved with any group on either side of this issue. I have never spoken publicly or written for publication on the issue. But I have been observing the discussion and considering the argumets.

    We don’t have the money to build a new Civic Center.

    I look at this as a family must make its decisions. Sure, who wouldn’t like to move into a brand new home when the old one starts showing its age and the roof needs fixing?

    But if you don’t have the money to buy new, you spend the money to fix up what you have and make it as safe and comfortable as possible. When you don’t have the money and you’ve got BIG bills to pay, you don’t buy new. End of discussion for a family.

    Glad to see that the City Council recognizes that such a huge expenditure at this time is unwise. We’ve got enough to pay for in the near term. Fix the major problems now and budget (yes, budget) for needed maintenance for the next 20 years.

    And while they are at it, figure out if they can consolidate all City and Township offices into that building now so that we can stop paying rent in far-flung locations.

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