Evanston aldermen Tuesday voted to fix parts of the Civic Center’s roof and hire a consultant help figure out what to do with the building.

The aldermen at the Civic Center Committee meeting supported Facilities Superintendent Dave Cook’s proposal to spend less than $20,000 to fix the roof above Room 4100 in the Finance Department.

Continuing leakage there, Mr. Cook says, has caused plaster deterioration that’s led the city staff to remove the plaster from the exterior wall, exposing the bare brick for what he describes as a “loft-like” appearance.

Workers in that office have also resorted to setting out coffee cans to catch the water that drips in, he added.

Mr. Cook suggested that if the repairs are successful in that spot, similar techniques could be used to repair a handful of other areas where less severe leaks have been spotted, perhaps for a total cost of less than $70,000.

If those steps are successful, he said, the city may be able to remove scaffolding around the building set up to protect visitors from slate falling off the roof. He said the city’s spending nearly $10,000 a year to rent the scaffolding.

Roof repairs at the Civic Center have been on hold since late 2002, when, according to a memo from Mr. Cook and Public Works Director David Jennings, the staff concluded based on comments from aldermen that only “life, safety and health issues” with the building should be addressed.

Mr. Cook said the roof has been failing over the newer, 1920s vintage, portion of the building because of mistakes by the contractor who installed a replacement roof two decades ago. That contractor has since gone out of business.

Mr. Cook said the slate roof tiles are fastened to wood sheathing that in turn is fastened to the cement-based roof deck.

The wrong fasteners were used to attach the sheathing to the deck and over time vibration causes them to work loose. As the sheathing starts to slip, it causes the nails holding the slates to work loose.

As a result, some slate tiles have been sliding down the roof. Most are caught in the gutters at the eaves, Mr. Cook said, but occasionally one falls off the roof entirely, leading to the need for the scaffolding to protect visitors from falling slate.

The original portion of the building hasn’t been affected by the roof leak problem, Mr. Cook said, because it has a wooden roof deck and the fasteners used to hold the sheathing have worked well there.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said believes the building should be maintained, whether or not the city continues to have its offices there. So she proposed going ahead with a complete replacement of the roof, which staff has estimated could cost nearly $2 million.

But Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said that with no decision about how long the city will stay in the building, he doesn’t believe the city should spend that much on the roof.

“If the building has a new owner in a few years, I’d rather they pay for the new roof than have us pay for it,” he said.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said a new owner might want to have a different color roof or add skylights or duplex up for more height. “I just think it’s too much money,” he said, “if we end up not staying, put it on the market and deduct from the price the cost of the new roof.”

City Manager Julia Carroll said that once the aldermen have the consultant’s report in eight or 10 weeks, they’d be in a better position to decide whether to spend the money to replace the roof.

The aldermen agreed to spend $154,450 to hire Ross Barney Architects of Chicago to recommend which of four future civic center options would be most cost effective.

The options are:

  • Purchase a new site and build a new Civic Center there.
  • Build a new Civic Center on the site of the existing building.
  • Alter the existing building.
  • Stay within the existing building shell and rehabilitate it.

Mr. Cook said the city’s directions to the consultant are intended to “create a level plane where all four options can be evaluated against prescribed design criteria.”

Hiring the consultant will require formal approval at the next City Council meeting, but with most aldermen present at the Civic Center Committee meeting, there appeared to be no opposition.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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