Aldermen were told Monday night that Evanston has a lot of public buildings for a town its size and hasn’t been spending nearly enough to maintain them.
As a special meeting at the Civic Center, city staff recapped the $18.5 million the city has invested in its buildings over the past five years and laid out the plans for another $4.5 million in spending next year.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the staff doesn’t have precise figures yet on how much needs to be spent to keep up with ongoing needs for improvements, but that “on an order of magnitude basis, it’s probably two to three times what we’re spending now.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asked the new city engineer, Homayoon Pirooz, “how much do other cities our size spend?”
Pirooz said he’d need to do more research to provide a firm comparison, but that Ann Arbor, Mich., where he worked before coming to Evanston “didn’t have as many facilities” as Evanston does.
Stephanie Levine, senior project manager for facilities and parks, said the city has plans to increase spending on parks next year. It’s spent $891,000 on parks over the past five years and plans to spend $866,500 on them just next year.
The aldermen readily agreed to have staff do more research on the repairs needed to existing buidings and on developing a model for evaluating whether any existing facilities should be consolidated or closed.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the city needs to have a public discussion of the need for all its facilities.
And the recent bruising debate over what to do with the Harley Clarke mansion was much on the minds of the aldermen.
Rainey said that debate “was a classic example of how not to do a public process. It was managed shamefully, dealt with shamefully by the community, not managed by the council and it didn’t produce a good result.”
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, argued that though the debate over the mansion was “messy,” she felt it was focused on the public saying “what’s the best use of the property and how much will it cost.”
“I found that discussion really interesting and much more mature than I would have expected previously,” Fiske added.
But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, call the mansion debate “the most embarrasing thing this council has done since I’ve been on the council.”
What “the public” did to Col Jennifer Pritzker, the private investor who responded to the city’s request for proposals to use the mansion with a concept for a boutique hotel, “could not be more wrong,” Burrus added.
Jean Bonander, the consultant and former city manager in California brought in to facilitate the City Council’s goal-setting discussions, said “the process is always messy, especially when the public is involved.”
But she said the aldermen have time to set their priorities and have a public discussion, because when it comes to capital projects, “you can’t do them all at once.”
“Even if you had unlimited funds,” Bonander said, “you don’t have unlimited staff resources to manage the projects.”
Top: Aldermen Don Wilson and Judy Fiske getting the not-very-encouraging news about the state of the city’s facilities.