Daniel Biss.

A city staff report says Evanston faces a likely cost of $145 million to $275 million to repair or replace four key public buildings.

And that’s on top of nearly $15 million in emergency repairs and new construction work planned for those buildings and two others this year and next.

“That was grim, but thank you very much,” Mayor Daniel Biss said after City Engineer Lara Biggs finished the report Monday night.

Council members who responded to the report appeared committed to doing something about the issue — but exactly what to do — beyond holding some town hall discussions — remained unclear.

Evanston’s Police Headquarters. Credit: Google, 2018.

Top focus was on the 1949-vintage Police and Fire Headquarters building. At 58,000 square feet, the report says it has only two-thirds of the space needed for the current department staff. The report estimates its repair or replacement cost at between $50 million and $100 million.

Chief Schenita Stewart said the poor condition of the building has led to Evanston losing officers to other departments — like Arlington Heights — that have better facilities.

The police headquarters in Arlington Heights. Credit: Google, 2019.

The building doesn’t send a message that the employees are valued, Mayor Biss said. “We have to act on this,” he added, to provide the public safety services the city needs.

The Arlington Heights building was completed in 2018. The new 70,000 square foot structure, next to village hall, was built on the site of the old 38,000 square foot station that opened in 1979.

Biss said he wanted a pragmatic discussion to develop “fundamentally functional facilities.”

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the city should go beyond that to consider what value “a beautiful building” would add to the community.

Reid said he’d been impressed when he visited Long Beach, California, recently for a conference and saw the cluster of buildings — for city offices, police and fire agencies, and the coastal city’s port authority — that fill a downtown block.

The Civic Center in Long Beach, California. Credit: Google, 2022.

Long Beach, with a population of 451,000 people, is nearly six times the size of Evanston.

Unlike the police station, which staff deem to be too small, the Evanston Civic Center, built in two phases in the early 20th century as a private school and converted for the city’s use in 1978, is considered too large for the city’s staffing needs.

Like the police station, the staff report estimates its repair or replacement cost at between $50 million and $100 million.

There has been frequent discussion of relocating the Civic Center to downtown Evanston, in part to provide more daytime customers for downtown businesses, but the council has failed for decades to make a commitment about whether to replace or make major upgrades to the building.

The two other buildings cited in the report as having major future cost concerns are the Service Center, estimated to need $35 million to $55 million of work, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, estimated to need $10 million to $20 million in upgrades.

Facilities and Fleet Manager Sean Ciolek told council members that the city does have a budget for facilities maintenance, but that it’s just a drop in the bucket for what would be needed to properly care for the city’s buildings.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the council should stop repeating its mistakes and that he wanted to keep “all options on the table” regarding whether to rehab or replace the key buildings.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) said the council needed to schedule an executive session to discuss the public safety building issues. It appears the city needs a new building to provide those services, he added.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) agreed that police and fire likely need a totally new facility — and then the council needs to consider a replacement for the Civic Center, Revelle said, because the city may want to co-locate those facilities.

The Council voted to approve emergency repairs to the police station elevator, but took no formal action on the rest of the facilities issues.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Are you kidding me? Evanston needs $145 million to $275 million to repair or replace four public buildings, plus another $15 million in emergency repairs. At the top, that’s $290 million, more than a quarter billion of money that we do not have.

    When you underfund or ignore your infrastructure it never repairs itself. Day by day, month by month, year by year, infrastructure erodes until it fails. To put it simply, you shouldn’t wait for it to rain before fixing your roof.

    These building problems have been in front of the mayor, the city manager, aldermen, and city staff for a decade and their collective inaction – which is borderline negligent – is a front-and-center example of the dysfunctional city leadership in Evanston.

    Too often our leaders use Evanston as a “petri dish” for social experiments that waste money (this may be Evanston’s superpower) and take time away from our very real problems – infrastructure, crime and safety, economic development, and education.

    It’s long past time to start seriously managing the city and time to stop with the ridiculous social engineering distractions. Maybe if we spent less time (zero time) on reparations, defunding the police, guaranteed payments, environmental justice (whatever that is), hookah lounges, video poker, psychedelic mushrooms, topless beaches, addict shelters, rock throwing, and anti-business regulations, we’d be better prepared to guard against the giant fiscal boulder that is about to hit and wipe out Evanston.

    The old saying “lead, follow, or get out of the way” comes to mind. In my opinion, the city manager, mayor, and six of the nine aldermen (Clare Kelly, Bobby Burns, and Tom Suffredin are the only competent members) need to follow or get out of the way because they are not leaders, and it’s not even close.

    The size of Evanston’s civic incompetence is matched only by the enormity of our now very real infrastructure crisis.

    Someone light the Bat Signal, Evanston needs Batman.

    1. Well put, Paul. This Evanston City Council and Mayor love projects that prove what good, kind people they are, even if we taxpayers can’t afford or don’t wan these poorly thought out. projects. For example, turning a privately-held, property-tax-paying/hotel-tax-generating entity – The Margarita Inn – into a homeless shelter. So what if there are almost 200 beds for the unhoused within 1/4 of a mile of that site and surrounding neighbors have complaints? It makes for good newspaper headlines and Connections for the Homeless is happy.

      Now, the city is advertising to hire a $100,000k/year full-time “Reparations Program Construction Administrator “ whose “Work involves collaborating with residents to determine project goals, identifying most pertinent repairs, setting realistic budgets, establishing clear expectations for the overall project, inspecting the interior and exterior of residential buildings, structures, or premises, assessing the conditions of such in relation to codes and standards, preparing specifications and cost estimates, executing security documents and contracts, recording documents, monitoring construction, and processing payouts.” Basically, a full-time person who will help those receiving reparations to hire and supervise contractors?But reparation payments are only $25K, not enough for complex home improvements that require a general contractor and the city recently adopted a cash payment option so many won’t need guidance at all. And let’s not mention the glacial pace at which they’re distributing reparations – only 13 had gone out as of March. Regardless, that job must be filled even though the $100,000 could be spent rehabbing a bathroom in a city-owned building…but it wouldn’t be a future NY Times story, so the bathroom can wait, along with the millions and millions of dollars of other needed repairs.

  2. The latest estimate of unfunded pension liability is 235 million (https://evanstonnow.com/pensions-emerge-as-hot-budget-issue/). Add this 200 million of “building maintenance”, split among the 30,000 households in Evanston come to 14.5 thousand in debt per household.

    That is not a small burden, but it is manageable, IMO. Evanston is certainly not the only municipality in the region with this problem. I am much more concerned about unfunded obligation and debt of the State of Illinois.

  3. Paul Sheldon wrote:

    “Evanston needs $145 million to $275 million to repair or replace four public buildings, plus another $15 million in emergency repairs. At the top, that’s $290 million, more than a quarter billion of money that we do not have…”

    Yes, that *is* mind – boggling! Not so many years ago, that kind of money could build a Sears Tower or a Hancock Center or a decent – sized warship. I’d add an “lol”, but it is definitely “no laughing matter”…

    IMO the basic issue is that the “progressive” cabal that runs this town (and their NGO comrades – in – arms) has pretty much nothing but contempt for taxpayers – those of us that earn, build, own, operate, and contribute to society. To them, we’re just a bunch of chumps that are to be milked for all that we are worth – because the idea that they might serve, you know, we taxpayers is just abhorrent to them. And always, *always*, the *more* is spent, the *worse* the problem is…

    These days, I just think of Evanston as “The Banana Republic By – The – Lake”…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  4. Seems to me that people advocating for spending beaucoup money should at least make their contribution by paying their rent, particularly if their principal argument is that they want a beautiful building. I cannot imagine why comparisons with other suburbs are a factor at all. The only issue is whether what we have is sufficient for current and future needs. I have been involved in proposals for getting rid of current infrastructure for more than forty years, starting with the urgent-urgent need to demolish the el and replace it with two new subway lines downtown. It was argued that the el structure was beyond its useful life and figuratively was going to collapse any day. Didn’t happen. Architects – and sometimes even engineers – get an edifice complex too easily, rather than looking at how to reconfigure and reuse. Evanston’s population is not expected to grow much, if at all. Just how is it that demand for police and fire and admin services will be insufficient? One can make an argument, but I’ve not heard it yet.

  5. How can we not have a budget for the repairs of OUR buildings? This just did not happen. There is no transparency in this town. Our current council just want to spend spend on social programs and our buildings are falling down. Plus, who paid for Reid to go to Long Beach? Another waste of money. Oh yea, be great if we build a new huge building for our government.

    1. Yes JP, I’d very much like to know how Reid’s “conference” trip to California was paid for?—-my tax dollars?—-I very much hope not—-I’m not aware of any city council policy that pays alders to go on conference trips?—-some explanation on this requires immediate attention—-just exactly what kind of conference was this?

      1. Very likely the recent ICMA (International City Managers Association) meeting in Long Beach on June 7-9.

        LINK — https://lgr.icma.org/long-beach-ca/

        Devon Reid is a member of the ICMA. Who pays his dues? Who paid for the conference registration, hotel, and expenses?

      2. Yes, John, going on a nice junket at taxpayer expense whilst stiffing the landlord is certainly a noble thing to do; it sets a real example of “integrity”…

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  6. Some good comments here. I hope city leadership is listening. The solution doesn’t have to be all or nothing and it doesn’t require expensive studies from out of town consultants. If police hq is so bad nobody wants to work there, rehab it.

  7. OK…so E-Town needs $290 million of capital for buildings and more than $200 million for pension liabilities. According to Paul Sheldon – his comments are above – that’s nearly half a billion in needed capital. His math is right, he must be a damn genius.

    This is a financial train wreck. Who is accountable for this miss? The mayor, the city manager, the CFO? How about all three?

    This question needs to be answered. A $500 million capital hole and all the mayor has to say at the last council meeting is “that’s grim.” Who on the council will have the spine to say we messed up big time? Who resigns or is fired?

    1. The building maintenance debt and pension debt were build up over multiple mayors, city councils and city managers. It would be be inaccurate and not helpful to pick out individuals in the current government or city staff to blame.

      What we should do is hold the mayor and city council accountable for putting forth solutions. That is actually moving forward with pension debt, but only because of a state law. There is no state requirement to have city buildings in reasonable condition, so it will require leadership to raise taxes and/or make cuts to fix it.

      1. The mayor has been mayor for more than two years (May 2021). He may not have started the shortfall, but he certainly ignored it. This willful ignorance – so perfectly explained by the need to fund needed resume checks for his next run at state wide office – has doomed E-Town to a capital need we can not fund.

        The city manager and CFO are also complicit. The problem is right in front of them every day when they walk in city hall.

        Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not an excuse for not doing your job.

  8. Comparing Evanston to Village of Arlington Heights civic Police building planning deserves a bit more fair examination.
    Whatever their multitude of reasons, what other departments did our Police move or retire into these past 3 years, aside from the sole mentioned ArlHts newer building.
    Being very familiar with that form of non-wards government–my daughter attended high school and granddaughter attended 12 years public ed in Arl Hts–where taxes are also quite above moderate but we all know the old existing and new social plans approved in EV along with numerous non-profits we boast – all of which consume our taxes.
    My husband was very proud decades ago to introduce me to Evanston (then there were also numerous other deteriorated buildings eventually updated) and to this beautiful lakefront;
    I chose to move into a condo here now over a decade.
    Things change! But I too was dismayed by the condition of EV Police facility my first visit 7 years ago to obtain a report.
    Currently I hear many positive comments about our new Police Chief and therefore am glad she didn’t let the deteriorating facilities convince her otherwise.

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