Evanston voters by a nearly five-to-one margin Tuesday said they favor rehabbing the current Civic Center building at 2100 Ridge Ave.

The referendum question backed by the Friends of the Civic Center drew far more total votes than the question placed on the ballot by the City Council, which assumed it would cost $31 million to do the rehab job. The Friends group had urged voters to ignore the council’s referendum.

Despite that, 49 percent of those voting on the council referendum voted for it, despite the big price tag. The aldermen have repeatedly said they prefer building a new Civic Center and claim they could fund a new building without raising property taxes but would have to raise taxes to rehab the old building.

In the school board races Katie Bailey, Keith Terry and Bonnie Lockhart won election to the District 65 board, defeating Andrew Pigozzi and Adrian Dortch.

In the Evanston Township High School board race newcomer Omar Khuri won election along with incumbents Mary Wilkerson and Jane Colleton, defeating Boris Furman, Adrian Dortch, William Wideman and high school student Jacob Novar.

The turnout for today’s election was light, with a little over 6,000 votes cast, about the same as in the school election four years ago, even though the number of registered voters in Evanston has grown from 39,647 to 45,529 during that time. By contrast, in the 2005 municipal election, with aldermanic as well as school board candidates on the ballot, more than 12,500 voters turned out.

Related story

Detailed election results

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. Have you worked in the Civic Center?
    Friends of the Civic Center, unite!/
    As it crumbles around a hard-working public/
    Sweating, melting in 4th floor 80 degree humid heat/
    Sprightly service turns to languorous lassitude./

    Two little stalls serve twenty-five well hydrated working women/
    The slowness of their swishing swirling bowls / frustrates even the
    Most patient of City servants—/
    cool water from the faucet—a reprieve!/

    In a nearby office, mold prevents repair of walls/
    Fluorescent lights flicker in a dark hallway/
    They attempt to illuminate, brighten our way—but fail/
    What are the long-term effects of asbestos exposure?/

    You voted, Evanston, to keep us here. /
    5 to 1: 4,910 of you saw the beauty of the façade but
    Missed the dilapidated details of decay./
    Rehabilitation? Possible perhaps. At an incredible cost and more discomfort for the City employees. /

    While you protest, we persevere./
    Wiping brows, closing blinds, we hide from the beautiful Spring weather
    That to us only means heat./
    At the end of the day, some of us are Evanston residents as well. /
    We pass the “Save” signs and wonder at the book-cover judgment that guides our Friends./

    1. Working in the Civic Center
      Dear Ms. S.S.,

      Don’t blame Friends of the Civic Center for the present state of the building. The blame is much closer. Consider the habitual postponing of any repair or maintenance. It is not just the Civic Center. Consider Crown, it is claimed to be falling down. A relatively new building.

      We live in house built in 1910. Somehow we and previous owners have managed to keep the mechanicals in decent working order.

      Whether this deferred upkeep is intentional to create the “need” for a new building or just a budget shell game, I do not know. I do know that the police and fire pension funds are in a mess after ten years of astute management, or neglect.

      We have heard about a need for much smaller space — yet consultants tell us the space needs are about the same. BTW do you want to work in an open office in a small cubicle?

      As for the over 5 to 1 vote in favor of staying, reflect upon the fact that you work for the citizens. They pay you through hefty property taxes. I think they have a legitimate voice in this.

      The Friends of the Civic Center are not just a bunch of well meaning do-gooders, they are competent professionals in a variety of fields. The “differences’ in rehab estimates should be a wake up call.

      The “search” for a new site has gone on for years, perhaps one eventually gets the picture that this may be the site.

      1. Working and Living in Evanston
        Vito-

        As always your comments are appreciated. Why do you assume I don’t pay property taxes in Evanston? I do. I also love my job and feel very fortunate to have it. When the good citizens who pay my wage come to seek my services, they will always see a smile on my face (along with the beads of sweat on my forehead.) My opinion is my opinion, just like the Friends’. Don’t you think disagreement is an important part of democracy? I definitely concede that Evanston wants us to stay in the Civic Center, but hearing the minority opinion is important too.

        1. Working and living in Evanston (cont.)
          Nowhere did I assume that you did not live in or pay taxes in Evanston.

          I am always open to other views, but when it comes down to numbers, I want good numbers. So far all the numbers favor the Civic Center staying put and being rehabbed.

          I am glad that you enjoy your job and are eager to help fellow taxpayers.

          I also note from the time stamp that you are responding during working hours. It must be great to work in such a collegial environment.

      2. Civic Center
        Vito, what will your position be if the results of a continuing dialogue, point in the decision, that the economics favor the construction of a new civic center.

        If that should turn out to be the case, will you be a whole hearted supporter of the Center being relocated.

        As you mentioned the city has spent $200,000 to have professionals study the possibilities and space needs. It seems that those opinions, that were paid for, somehow are less valuable and less honest than local free opinions from neighbors. I don’t follow that logic.

        Would you explain?

        I look forward to your thoughts.

        1. Civic Center
          Ron,

          I would be very surprised if the economics turn out to be in favor of constructing a new civic center, on the present site or a new site. If it were just myself doing the numbers one could question, but as a group, with a variety of skill sets, we have tried all the various options and it comes to one conclusion — stay and rehab. Their rehab costs are inflated — and they admitted that in the fuss over the two referenda. Their estimates, some quite old, of a new building, especially when compared to similar structures in the Chicago suburban area, we find to be on the low side.

          I claim no infallibility, thus if a good argument could be made, I would be open to it. But up to now, no convincing argument, far from it.

          As far as “free opinion”, consider that we have spent considerable time, and our, and contributors money, so in the sense of opportunity costs, there have been plenty. We have paid for newspaper ads, flyers, yard signs and door flyers. Unlike the city, which uses your and my money to print their misleading flyers. Fortunately the voters saw through that.

          As a retired consultant, I can say that many times consultants are paid to tell you what you want to hear. Going through several years of minutes obtained through FOIA requests, from the prior council on, it became quite apparent that a new site was a foregone conclusion and rehabbing was hardly mentioned. The lack of any effort to maintain the building is also indicative. It is interesting that they had to resurrect Art Newman, a strong proponent from the last council, to defend their position in the recent TV debate.

          What really got me involved was the oversimplification of the TIF implementation. I came away with the conclusion that it was either misleading, or they did not fully understand the implementation and its impact on other taxing entities. Either conclusion was troubling.

          The status of the police and fire pensions does not instill any great reliance of the financial acumen available. To add the borrowing of a higher cost of a new center, along with the general obligation bonds to cover the pension shortfall makes one very concerned about the credit rating of the city in years to come. As a taxpayer, so should you.

          1. Civic Center
            Bruno, I am pleased to hear that you will remain open minded and that your biggest concern seems to be with the economics.

            Your comments regarding the consultants suggests that they were paid to come up with an inaccurate report. What would be the purpose of that?

            It doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s interest to inflate the cost of rehab, unless you are insuating that the council (past and present)were frivolously interested in spending our money for no good reason.

            If that is what you are thinking, that’s pretty cynical.

            I look forward to your response.

          2. Civic Center (cont)
            Ron,

            As with issues concerning the Civic Center, let us be accurate — it is Vito not Bruno.

            I did not say that consultants necessarily lie when they are paid to tell clients what they want to hear. They can be more subtle, by emphasizing certain aspects and ignoring others.

            As an example, the current state of the Civic Center is said to be dire. Yet the deferred repair and maintenance is not mentioned. Was this done intentionally or was it done as a means of staying within budget over the past years? This is probably the reason the pension funds are underfunded. The most recent roof repair was poorly done, the contractor went out of business and the city’s answer was to put scaffolding up for several years. Was this done to “convince” us that a new building was needed? If a mere homeowner had let his property stay that way they would have been cited. The roof probably could have been repaired for less than $1 million.

            One of the justifications for a new building is that the city needs less space and the present structure is too large. The recent SOM study concludes that space needs are about the same.

            Another reason given is that an “open office” work environment was desired. That means new furniture, is that really necessary, what is the payback, the ROI?

            There have been overruns on past projects: library, senior center, etc. What guarantee is there that would not occur with a new building?

            What about a site? How can we even begin to estimate the cost of new building when a specific site is not determined. Robinson bus terminal? Environmental issues, street and infrastructure (sewers, electrical, etc.) parking are undefined.

            Am I cynical? Not really, otherwise I would not be involved. But after 40+ years here I am a realist.

          3. Civic Center
            Vito,
            My apologies for the name mistake, absolutely no offense intended.

            The deferred maintenance that you refer to is evident, however does that really make a difference. I think it was the old council that thought in its wisdom that moving out of the building would be the prudent thing to do. If that was the case wouldn’t it make sense for the city to only undertake those repairs that would be necesary.

            I agree that the possibility of cost overruns is probable. That is why it would be critical and responsible to plan for that. That would be the case for both new or rehab. Someone once told me that in the rehab business you never find a good surprise. That being the case the need to plan for that eventuality would be even more critical if the city decides to rehab.

            Have you ever heard from any one you know who rehabbed their house, that the cost didn’t end up being substancially more than what they thought it would be.

            As for your comments regarding other sites and the possibility of environmental issues, as you may be unaware of, the property must be delivered clean.

            As for fiscal responsibility, the pension fund is clearly an issue. It appears the the current administration is looking at adressing this issue. As far as I can tell, the council’s not keeping the funding at appropriate levels only resulted in deferring an additional tax increase on all of us, or keeping the taxes stable and reducing services.

            I look forward to your response. And again sorry about the name mistake.

          4. Civic Center response
            Ron,

            Don’t sweat the name, I have been called much worse. Perhaps you were thinking of Giodarno Bruno.

            Deferred maintenance does make a difference. Roof leaks can cause continuing deterioration. Worn paint can affect moisture penetration. The roof problem at the Civic Center is due to use of improper fasteners which fail and cause the slate tiles to fall. That should have been caught. That deferred maintenance has been practiced is, in hindsight, not so prudent.

            I have rehabbed our house over the years and costs have been under control. I try to understand what is involved, do research and get several bids. The lowest bidder is not always the lowest cost. When they were about to pour our garage I caught the contractor trying to use mesh instead of rebar as specified. When confronted he responded:”I was going to talk to you about that.” We used rebar with lifters.

            From the previous council minutes we deduced there was no serious consideration of any other alternative other than a new building. Art Newman was the driving force for a new building and they had to resurrect him to defend the decision.

            As far as the environmental issue, there are several levels of remediation, which will be used? My niece’s husband is an environmental engineer who works on remediating properties.

            The council demonstrates the Law of Unintended Consequences. They have toiled for years on an affordable housing ordinance, and after they thought they had one they had to go back and redo it. They have one now and they find that it won’t help achieve affordable units in middle and upper income areas such as Central St. because the law only steps in with developments with 24 or more units. Current planning for Central St. allows perhaps a maximum of four stories which will not meet the 24 unit threshold.

            As for the desireable downtown location, the Council should have acquired the 1800 building before NU and rented out the rest.

            Given the past history, I would think the Council would jump at the assistance that Friends of the Civic Center has offered.

      3. To the city employee working in the Civic center.
        Let me ask you a few questions – one you are saying there is an issue with asbestos in the building – please give me future information? The city has a responsibility to protect employees do you know if any asbestos in the building is flaking or coming off pipes? Do you know of a report prepared by the city that outlines the asbestos in the building? Do you know if the City is properly managing the asbestos? Just because there is asbestos does not mean the building is not safe ofcourse given the city level of mismangement I would be concerned.

        Secondly what mold is growing in the building -the city needs to kill and stop the water damage. Since employees can get sick.

        The other issues appear to me to be maintenance, you don’t build a new building for slow toilets you fix the problem.

    2. Civic Center – are lawyers good judges of reports on Buildings?
      I agree with Vito – staff and council members are pushing thier own opinions off on the consultants. I reviewed the reports they prepared years ago – even one city employee (who has knowledge in the area) admitted to me that the costs and items were on the high side to rehab. No other opinions of staff will be heard on the Civic Center since they want to keep thier jobs. Frankly different consultants will give different opinions are what is needed or not needed in a Rehab.

      By the why the City built a children’s library about ten years ago – and now wasted 2 million dollars to renovate it – since they planned so well?

      Lets get real here not one individual on the city council is competent in the area of building, Architecture,engineering, planning and construction. Not even one of them is a developer. They are mostly lawyers.

      I am not a member of the friends of the Civic – but I am an Architect – so when a bunch of lawyers give me thier opinions about consulting reports they have no clue about I am not too impressed. If anyone is interested go look at the so called structural reports on Robert Crown for years staff was claiming it has structural problems -the reports do not say that- so when they were confronted with the truth – if they had structural problems the building need to be shut down right now what did they do? They shut up. Because Robert Crown is the same as the Civic Center – some want new buildings and do not want to maintain the existing buildings.

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