Fixing up Evanston’s Ecology Center could cost $3.4 million — or roughly $555 per square foot for the 6,200 square foot building.

That’s the estimate city staff will present to council members Monday night for upgrading the building at Bridge Street and McCormick Boulevard, much of which is nearly 50 years old.

That may seem like a lot, but it’s considerably cheaper than the $900 per square foot cost the City Council approved earlier this year to build a new 8,900 square foot animal shelter to replace that existing half-century-old building on Oakton Street.

On the other hand, the city has received a $2 million grant from Cook County and expects $1.2 million in private fundraising from the Evanston Animal Shelter Association for that project.

In a memo to the City Council, City Engineer Lara Biggs says the original portion of the Ecology Center building was constructed with a dirt-floor crawl space with two-feet or less of clearance, which makes maintenance work on utilities in the crawl space very difficult.

An aerial view of the Ecology Center. Credit: Google

She says groundwater seeping into the crawlspace has caused corrosion and deterioration of utilities and structural supports leading to failure of the subflooring in portions of the building.

In addition, she says, the original HVAC equipment is insufficient to meet modern design loads, doesn’t meet current building codes and use refrigerants that needs to be phased out because of environmental concerns.

Making repairs, Biggs says, will require pulling up flooring in much of the building to get access to the damaged support joints and subfloor.

But she says doing a major rehab project on the building does provide an opportunity meet some Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals by eliminating natural gas use and upgrading plumbing fixtures to low-flow energy-efficient models.

Council members will be asked to tell staff their preferences about how much of the work should actually be done.

The Ecology Center project is just a small slice of what city staff estimate is in the range of $200 million needed to repair or replace key city buildings in the near future.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. This is so simple. Three words… Harley Clarke Mansion.

    The ecology center is located on a huge road – McCormick Blvd. and bordered by nothing more than a sanitary canal. It is a terribly located and vastly underused.

    The existing ecology center should be shuttered and all functions and staff, goals and aspirations, should be moved to Harley Clarke. Then, cancel the new animal shelter and retro fit the ecology center as the new animal shelter.

    Just think of the possibilities of having a new center focused on ecology based on the shores of Lake Michigan.

    1. Hi Paul,
      So, estimates for rehabbing the Harley Clarke mansion are running in the ballpark of $10 million — roughly three times the estimated cost of the Ecology Center work.
      The animal shelter rebuild has already been contracted for and work is underway — which means that at best the city would face substantial penalties if it canceled the project now.
      And more millions would be required to adapt or rebuild the Ecology Center for use as an animal shelter. So likely no net savings in doing that.
      But except for being hugely more expensive, just moving the Ecology Center to the mansion might work.
      — Bill

    2. I’ve got to say this is an interesting suggestion and seems a fiscally prudent move. I wonder why these moves were not considered before contracts were signed.

    3. There is more natural habitat along the canal even just in the stretch from the Ecology Center to Green Bay than at the Clarke Mansion, and there’s an ongoing restoration project run by volunteers. There’s also a fair amount of available, underutilized open space that could be restored as natural land. The Ecology Center also runs kids programs at the food gardens across the intersection.

      It’s on the best bike route in the city. And it’s more central, so kids programs are more accessible than the Clarke Mansion would be.

      The ecologically-oriented solution for the Clarke Mansion property was the proposal several years ago to tear it down and create a wider natural area there, completely funded by private donations already committed. I supported that proposal, but it received wildly unfair criticisms and voters chose to save the decrepit building, based on unrealistic plans from organizations that wanted a lakefront building. I think people need to get over the idea that the Clarke Mansion is worth saving. As in Chicago, the lakefront would be best kept open, clear and free.

      And, I want to mention that I appreciate Bill’s effort to push facts like the rehab estimates for the mansion into the comments section.

  2. I think we should just shut down the ecology center rather than wasting money rehabbing it.

  3. Bill’s comments only points out throwing good money after bad. I can’t honestly say I know what exactly the center does.

    1. Children’s birthday parties, hosts school/camp field trips, runs camps of its own, houses a variety of smaller wild animals (trotted out for all of the above), and provides a variety of nature-related programming (which is probably duplicated, more or less, at local forest preserves).

      1. My daughter just finished a 2 week summer camp run by the ecology center, and we were blown away by how well organized and educational it was. The theme was the Illinois prairies, and now my child can tell you all about the prairie! We actually just booked her birthday party there too, because she enjoyed the animal visit so much. It’s a huge resource to those with children or anyone who wants to learn more about the local environment.

  4. So, nobody knew that a 2’ crawl space was a bad idea? Nobody knew putting an elevator in the police station without proper structure was a bad idea? Nobody knew the Harley Clarke mansion needed ongoing maintenance to keep it from falling apart? Who’s running the show here?

    1. The problem with trying to “pin the blame” for decisions made a half century ago (in the case of the original design of the Ecology Center) or 38 years ago (in the case of the police station elevator) is that the people in charge then are long retired and likely dead. And the decisions we regret now may have been seen as good “value engineering” then.

      As for Harley Clarke, everybody knew it needed maintenance — its just that nobody wanted to pay for it.
      — Bill

        1. Hi Paul,
          Good point. Let me clarify that nobody — in a decision-making role at the city wanted the city — to pay for it. (And yet neither were they willing to dispose of the building.)
          — Bill

  5. It would seem like tearing the building down and putting a new one up would be a good idea rather than sink 3.5 million onto repairing it. But …. because we are fixated on being greener than everyone else, that is impossible.

    1. This city isn’t green. We pretend it’s green and the mayor spews off green initiatives, but it’s for all for political charade.

      If we are serious about being green, then limit all the lawn care trucks driving around the city spewing diesel exhaust and all the lawn mowers spewing gasoline exhaust everyday in everyone’s yard. Let the grass grow and the city show leadership to limit those pollutants. You don’t need to cut your grass every week. That’s being green.

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