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Pension board chief explains move

The top executive of the Methodist Pension Board says the board’s planned move to Glenview will solve space problems and help it make better use of its financial resources.

The board’s decision to leave Evanston was first reported by Evanston Now on Tuesday. 

Pension board General Secretary Barbara Boigegrain says the board will have far more land in Glenview — 25 acres compared to 2.3 acres in Evanston, but the new three-story headquarters the board plans to build will be smaller, at 106,000 square feet, than the board’s two buildings in Evanston, which she said total roughly 130,000 square feet.

The existing buildings "are too big for us," Ms. Boigegrain said, but neither one is big enough by itself.

In addition, she said, the two buildings combined don’t have enough parking for the board’s roughly 260 employees. And, she added, increasing maintenance costs for the aging buildings have also been a problem for the board.

The board had developed plans for a possible new headquarters building on its property on the southwest corner of Ridge Avenue and Davis Street, but under existing zoning the best design they could come up with "would be at capacity on the day we moved in," Ms. Bosigegrain said, adding that board leaders concluded "that felt wrong for a long-term decision."

She said the much larger Glenview site can easily accommodate expansion if the board’s staffing needs grow in the future.

"Everybody on the city’s planning staff tried to work with us," she added, "everybody tried to make it work. We’ve loved being in Evanston and have had a warm reception with the city."

However, neighbors of the pension board site, at the edge of Evanston’s downtown, had opposed any zoning change that would permit more intensive development of the property.

The pension board built the 1200 Davis St. building, on the south side of the block, in 1961. It acquired the former Rotary International headquarters building on the north side of Davis after Rotary moved to its current high-rise headquarters downtown.

Ms. Boigegrain said the Glenview site, on the south side of Chestnut Avenue just across the Metra tracks from Lehigh Avenue, "is not as convenient as where we are now in Evanston. Now we have a wonderful location close to the post office, two train lines and restaurants."

"In each case in Glenview those things will be a little further away, but they’re about as close as we could find for a space that would work for our future home," she said.

She said two Metra stations on the same line are accessible from the Glenview site — one about 8-tenths of a mile north of the property, the other about the same distance to the south.

She said the board studied the impact of the move on its employees and that one factor in choosing the Glenview site was that on average it will not increase workers’ commuting distances.

The new building isn’t likely to be completed until early 2010, she said, "and in some ways that’s a positive. It gives our employees a period of time to make a decision about the move. We very much hope we will keep the vast majority of our employees, but we know that not everyone will be happy about it," and she noted that similar organizations typically have a 10- to 20-percent annual employee turnover rate.

Ms. Boigegrain said the board’s leadership has "not yet really focused" on the future of the Evanston properties, but will likely sell them.

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