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Shortly after the completion of a gap repair project within the City’s Sherman Plaza self-park garage, the scaffolding went back up – and this time it was for what the City calls an emergency. Pieces of the precast concrete façade panels on the garage exterior have been chipping off, leading to serious concern by the City about the structural integrity of the entire exterior of the structure.

City Council approved an emergency single-source contract for a “close up inspection and hammer sounding of the entire façade” at its Feb. 27 meeting. The inspection will cost the City up to $60,400 and should be completed within two weeks, weather permitting. City Council members appear to be anxiously awaiting the results.

“I know enough to be worried,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “We obviously are not going to all this trouble unless we are worried about something.”

City treasurer Marty Lyons tried to temper Council’s fears. “We’re worried we got a bad batch” of precast panels,” he said, but added that “there’s no reason for fear.” The report that results from testing will indicate whether panels need to be replaced or repaired, and if not the proper maintenance needed to prevent additional spalling (chipping or splintering) in the future.

The Sherman Plaza Garage was constructed in 2004, bringing up the larger issue of City contracting and the quality of work done on behalf of the City. “This garage is not really old, and things are falling off it already,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. “That doesn’t sit well with me. … It’s mysterious to me how we keep having these types of issues.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said, “Part of this has to do with how we bid, how we select. [A contractor] might look like the lowest bidder but in the end it does not turn out that way.”

“Just because it’s an Evanston business does not mean we should keep buying from them,” said Ald. Rainey, saying that by her recollection the City had to reject some of the garage concrete because it had too much sand in it.

Mr. Lyons said that, regardless, the “issue is still the same: Is the concrete good?” That is why, he said, the City needed an independent evaluation of the façade.

In three weeks or so the results should be in, and Council, and the City, should know whether the garage is falling or this has been nothing more than a $60,400 false alarm.