St. Mary’s Church will ask Evanston aldermen Monday night to overturn a Preservation Commission ruling that the church says will add more than $100,000 to the cost of a roof repair project for the church’s parish center.

The center, formerly a convent for nuns who taught at the former St. Mary’s school, has a clay tile roof that church officials say is severely in need of repair.

The repair job is estimated to cost $199,000 to restore the existing tile roof, but only $88,000 if it is instead replaced with fiberglass shingles that would match the roof on the nearby church building, which originally had a slate roof.

A rendering of the center with a fiberglass shingle roof matching the one on the church.

The Preservation Commission voted unanimously against allowing the substitution of the fiberglass shingles for the parish center, which is listed as an Evanston landmark and is located within the city’s Ridge Historic District.

In their appeal of the commission’s decision, church officials said keeping the clay tile roof “will serve no purpose” other than requiring $100,000 in additional initial cost as well as extra spending on ongoing maintenance — “money that could be better spent serving the community.”

At the Preservation Commission meeting, commission members claimed that the clay tiles would be more economical over time because they could last twice as long as the fiberglass singles, which church officials said would have a 40-year guarantee.

But the church officials said that ongoing maintenance costs for the clay tile roof runs more than $1,000 a year — more than wiping out the durability advantage. And a new clay tile roof, they said, would have only a three-year guarantee.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. St. Mary has made its point.
    St. Mary has made its point. This was just another City of Evanston decision, like dozens of others each year, that make living here a lot more expensive.

  2. There is responsiblity associated with owning landmark property
    Reading the article would make it appear that the Preservation Commission acted callously and in a draconian manner, which is not the case. If you look at the two photos you can readily see the difference between the original clay tile roof that was part of the Spanish-style architecture and the fiberglass shingle roof that is not even what many homeowners in Evanston might use if it was their home. As it is, what is not noted here is that the back side has numerous small dormers that the Commission was willing to be removed in order to reduce St. Mary’s costs – a point that the church to be happy to gloss over in their appeal.

    As to the adjoining church building, that had its slate roof replaced with asphalt or fiberglass shingles and is really a case of apples versus oranges. The slate is a flat material that can be replicated by either synthetic slate or heavy and thick shingles – if you buy the right ones. Also the church is a very different architectural style and never had clay tile roof nor is it a style that might have used clay tile. For those who recall the roof at the Morton Civic Center, it too was slate and was replaced with shingles because no one wanted to spend the money on a building that they expected to tear down ( remember the “Save the Civic Center” campaign?). There, however, the roof is so high that youm ight not even see it from Ridge contrary to what you can see in the Evanston Now photos.

    Much of the problem here is the fact that St. Mary’s has not maintained the roof over the years and allowed it to deteriorate. As a result they now faces a major expense very much like the State of Illinois when it came to pensions, let alone bridges, highways, sewers and water or power lines everywhere. They just kicked the can down the road as long as they could and never put aside the funds for when they might have to incur major costs as result of not having spent much less money along the way.

    As was noted in the article, the clay tile would last much longer and that maintenance cost of $1000 per year is not correct. That is probably what they now spend having allowed their roof tiles to crack and the interior underneath to deteriorate. The present clay tile roof seems to have lasted far more than 80 years and so that 3-year guarantee figure is meaningless.

    The main issue here, however, is the responsibility that comes with owning a landmark. Anyone who sits through Preservation Commission hearings often sees and hears homeowners who take that responsibility very seriously and go out of their way, generally at greater expense, to maintain and preserve their homes or property and to maintain and preserve Evanston’s history and heritage. St Mary’s should be doing the same rather than, much as people in the Middle Ages fell upon the church altar seeking sanctuary and alms – going to the City Council seeking the equivalent.

    1. How St. Mary’s and I are the same and different

      How we are the same:

      1.  We both (knowingly) own landmark properties that need new roofs.

      2.  We both have limited resources.

      How we are different:

      1.  I accept that ownership of a landmark property means special responsiblity for the building and for its contribution to the neighborhood streetscape.

      2.  I have been planning and budgeting for a new roof since the last roof was installed 25 years ago.

      3.  I will pay sales tax on every shingle on my new roof and pay property tax for the privilege of living in a great old house in  Evanston.

      I am disheartened that St. Mary's would ask for relief for its own lack of foresight and responsibility.  And discouraged that the City Council might reward that behavior.  


    2. re Turthferret

      re Turthferret

      Your point is only valid if they acquired the building after it was already a landmark. If the church building was declared a landmark during the period the church has owned it I think the idea of "responsibility of owning a landmark" becomes more questionable. Often the landmark commission is just out of control in the unfunded mandates it puts on property owners.


      1. I would like to comment that

        I would like to comment that the Preservation Committee does serve their purpose in trying to maintain the historical and architectural integrity of property declared a landmark for the City of Evanston. I'm sure that there are many questions and details that we are all not privileged to at this time. We must question that whether the maintenance was put off on this or not, that this is a church who's sole purpose is to provide a location to worship and serve the community and if this was a location that was able to generate profits, this situation would not be an argument. The fact that this location has not been an issue to anyone with the community in the past and the fact that it was stated that they could better serve the community in saving those costs rather than utilize it on continuous maintenance on a roof not conducive to the ever changing and inconsistent Chicago climate, leads me to believe that they are trying to take the best course of action they deem necessary. I am not sure if the Preservation Committee goes so far as to looking into the detailed situation as to why they are making this decision beyond a cost standpoint but they have to understand that just sometimes, you must think outside the box. It clearly appears that they looking ahead in the long term to prevent a situation like this to occur again where they are in a desperate situation to resolve the issue.

  3. Why have a Preservation Commission?

    • Why does the City of Evanston have a Preservation Commission of quilified people  if the City Council can override there decision?
    1. Commissions

      The city has many appointed advisory boards and commissions staffed with qualified people … the Plan Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals … and 40-some others.

      Our local government is set up so that — with the notable (and partial) exception of the Library Board — the elected members of the City Council, not the appointed members of the boards, have the final say.

      — Bill

      1. 40 something commissions and
        40 something commissions and boards ………….. wow! Kind of sounds like their over-stuffing the turkey or you know what they say about too many cooks.

      2. Zoning Board of Appeals

        To clarify, the Zoning Board of Appeals, which hears the majority of land-use cases in Evanston, does make the final determination in most cases, with the exception of Special Use applications, off-street parking and certain height restrictions. In those situations, ZBA does make a recommendation to approve or deny before the matter goes to Council.

        When making a determination on major variances and appeals of the decision of the zoning administrator, there must be four concurrent votes to approve or deny the requested zoning relief. These decisions of the ZBA cannot be overturned by Council, and must be appealed to the courts.

      3. Not all are “Advisory”
        Bill you need to check the City “rules”. Not all of the commissions are advisory where the council can overrule any decisions that are made. For example, the Zoning Board of Appeals decisions cannot be overridden and are binding.

        I suspect that members of the advisory commissions are frustrated when they spend time reviewing cases or issues,debating them and making a decision only to have the Council reverse the decision without getting much input or full briefings and details as to the original decision.

        1. City Council makes the rules

          The City Council makes the rules. It doesn't have to follow them. I don't know what the history is with the preservation commission, but the City Council has routinely ignored the recommendations of the Plan Commission, sometimes when the Plan Commission has been unanimously opposed to a building proposal. I don't know the details with the Zoning Board of Appeals, but ultimately, the City Council can do whatever it wants to do.

          With respect to the particular issue at hand, I think there's a lot more information we'd need to know about past practices, building ownership, etc. to make a fair determination. St. Mary's didn't say it couldn't afford the roof, but that it thinks the money could be better spent elsewhere. Does it really matter? If this were a City building, wouldn't the sentiment here be that the City shouldn't be spending an extra $100,000 on a tile roof? Isn't this a building that the archdiocese built in the first place and still owns today, and so shouldn't it be able to do what it wants with it?

        2. City rules are meaningless
          City rules are meaningless. By and large, local units of government may not legally delegate its authority to appointed boards. So even if city rules were to be written that says a committee decision is binding and not to be reviewed by the city council, I do not believe, at least in most cases, it would be held up in court.

          1. read the Evanston Code
            If you go to the Municipal Code on the City web site and drop down under the Government tab on the home page into the various commissions that are listed (nowhere near 40 BTW) you can read the powers of each one. Most of them do imply or indicate that they advise or recommend to the City Council, but when it comes to ZBA that is not the case at all. As you can see below, the ZBA is, in fact described and defined in a different Section of the Code as part of Zoning) whereas the other commissions are all part of Title 2 and have mostly the ability to recommend.

            Note that ZBA can approve or disapprove in most instances except for special uses and parking matters. Very different, despite your thought regarding the powers of elected or non-elected persons. BTW many other towns still require that a zoning variance gets approved by the council after the “recommendation” of their ZBA. But then again, this is Evanston.

            6-3-1-4. – ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS.

            The responsibilities of the Zoning Board of Appeals are to:


            Approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove any application for major variation and any combined application for a major and minor variation pursuant to Section 6-3-8, except when such application pertains to off-street parking and loading.


            Approve, approve with conditions, or disapprove any application for a family necessity variation.


            Hear and make recommendations to the City Council regarding any application for a major variation pertaining to off-street parking and loading pursuant to Section 6-3-8.


            Hear and make recommendations to the City Council regarding any application for a special use (except a planned development) pursuant to Section 6-3-5.


            Hear and decide any appeal from Zoning Administrator decisions regarding any application for a minor variation and fence variation pursuant to Section 6-3-8.


            Hear and decide any appeal from any order or final decision made by the Zoning Administrator in the administration or enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance pursuant to Section 6-3-11, except for an appeal of a decision based on the review and recommendation of the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee.


            Hear and decide or make recommendations on any other matters referred to it by the City Council.

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