Responding to aldermanic sticker shock over the potential cost of HVAC and other upgrades to the Civic Center, city staff will ask aldermen Monday to authorize a study to determine how much space Evanston needs for city hall functions.

In August staff estimated that:

  • Heating and cooling upgrades would cost $7 million,
  • Electrical systems upgrades would cost $3 million, and
  • Architectural and security modifications would run an additional $2 million to $7 million.

The newest portion of the Civic Center is now almost a century old and the older section is nearly 120 years old. City Engineer Lara Biggs says consultants have been saying the HVAC system was at the end of its useful life since 1998.

The building has about 120,000 gross square feet of space on five floors. Rehab costs ranging from $12 million to $17 million would imply a cost for the upgrades of between $100 and $145 per square foot.

New construction costs typically are in the range of $300 per square foot.

A 1998 study by Doyle  Associates suggested the city needs less than 70,000 square feet of space for its own offices and meeting rooms.

But a 2007 study by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill said the city needed roughly as much space as exists in the current building.

After about a decade of studying the issue, the Council disbanded its Civic Center Committee over a decade ago, opted to replace the building’s roof and keep patching the rest of its systems.

Disputes over how to finance a new building, where to put it, whether to demolish the existing building and what to replace it with if it were demolished ultimately led to the decision to keep muddling along with the existing structure.

At the August meeting several aldermen suggested relocating city hall functions out of the existing buliding.

The staff memo suggests also conducting a study to identify potential sites for a new Civic Center and asks for Council direction on whether to include other city buildings that need significant capital upgrades in the space planning study.

The oldest section of the Civic Center opened in 1901 as the Academy of the Visitation, a girls school operated by the Visitadine Sisters. After internal disputes within that order, it was taken over in 1915 by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods. That order completed two expansions of the building in the 1920s and operated the school as Marywood Academy until closing it in 1970 because of declining enrollment.

Related story

Back to the future: Talk of new Civic Center (8/6/19)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Space, the final frontier

    As a corollary to Parkinson’s Law, space required will increase to meet space capacity.

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