After years of deferring maintenance on the building, poring over the pages of at least six consultant’s reports, and agonizing about how to find the capital to rehab or relocate, City Council members may take a step to address an immediate problem at the Civic Center: They may decide to replace the roof.

Despite safety code violations, lack of ADA compliance and roof leaks that have caused mold in some fourth-floor offices, the City Council has deferred maintenance on the building since it decided nearly eight years ago to relocate.

City staff said they feel the leaking roof, broken floor tiles that contain asbestos, open entrances between stairs and hallways that could allow fire to spread and the lack of ADA-compliant washrooms on at least two floors are some of the problems that should be addressed.

At the June Civic Center Committee meeting, Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, appeared to surprise some of her colleagues when she suggested that City staff investigate the cost of addressing health and safety problems in the building. She said she wished to know the cost of making the building healthy and safe for employees.

At that meeting Facilities Manager David Cook said the mold was “penicillin – essentially bread mold” and said persons who showed sensitivity to the mold had been relocated to other offices.

Cost of Repairs

On Aug. 6 City staff presented a report to the Civic Center Committee, which estimated the cost of replacing the roof and making needed repairs to both the interior and the exterior of the building – including work that would address health, safety, environmental and ADA issues – at between $7.4 and $8.5 million.

Examples of problems City staff said they felt should be addressed were the leaking roof, broken floor tiles that contain asbestos, open entrances between stairs and hallways that could allow fire to spread, and the lack of ADA-compliant washrooms on at least two floors.

Some of these have ad-hoc solutions. At the Aug. 6 meeting, Doug Gaynor, Director of Parks/Forestry and Recreation, said recent tests showed the level of mold in the building “was about the same as the level of mold in [adjacent Ingraham] park.”

He also said the broken floor tiles are covered with tape to keep asbestos from being friable.

Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said the fire doors on the second floor are adequate but are absent on the higher levels.

The report breaks down the $7.4-$8.5 million costs as follows:

  • Exterior repairs (tuck pointing and roof replacement): $2-$2.3 million

  • Environmental repairs (asbestos and mold abatement, floor replacement): $487,900-$532,300
  • Interior repairs (sprinkler system, electric distribution changes, HVAC repairs, install fire doors): $2.9-$3.5 million
  • ADA compliance (washrooms on first and fourth floors, front ramp, signage): $293,000-$336,500
  • The discussion at the Aug. 6 Civic Center Committee, composed of all nine aldermen, was a tug-of-war between those aldermen who said they favored, at a minimum, replacing the roof “to protect our asset” and those who said they felt any repairs done to the building would be a waste of money, because the plan was still to move and whoever purchased the building would likely gut or demolish it. Aldermen have spent several years looking for a place to relocate but have not yet settled on a site or a way to pay for it. The most recent report estimates the cost of relocation to a new building to be approximately $50 million.

    Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked about the mold. “One of the catalysts was the mold, but it looks like we don’t have the bad mold.”

    Mr. Gaynor said, “The testing that we’ve done shows very low levels … not levels that would be hazardous to the health of an individual.”

    Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “I never heard anyone suggest that the health and safety of workers was at stake. The problem is now that we spend two years and $8.5-$10 million … and [yet] we have a standing resolution to move.” He said he thought the premise for repairing the roof was faulty and said he thought the repairs were “cosmetic.”

    Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, who chairs the committee, said, “My sense is that a developer who comes in and wants to make luxurious condos [in this building] will undo all [repairs] we do.”

    Ald. Rainey said, “We have a moral obligation to fix the roof.”

    Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she was “very torn. We don’t have the money. I wish we did. We have an asset here we’re allowing to deteriorate because ‘a new place is just around the corner.’ Reluctantly I will support this – but reluctantly.”

    The vote was 4-2 in favor of recommending to Council that the roof be replaced, with Alds. Moran and Bernstein voting against the motion. Aldermen Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, and Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, did not attend the meeting.

    A final vote is expected at the Sept. 8 Council meeting.

    Mary Gavin

    Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...