After a relatively long quiet period in newsworthy developments in Evanston architecture, suddenly there is plenty of news.
Andy Spatz and Matthew Barry are completing a project, this time near downtown on the south end of Oak Avenue, just south of Church Street. It will be a four-unit apartment building with parking on the ground floor and units above the parking. As all their work has been, the project is unconventional, daring and very good.
Nearby, a costly and intelligent remodeling with Myefski Architects Inc, 630 Davis St. is taking place. Both owner and architect deserve our recognition for a fine renovation and restoration job.
Lastly, a far more complicated issue, one that requires compromise in order to reach any solution is the future of the Evanston Art Center. As everyone knows by now, it is housed in the aging Harley Clarke mansion that desperately needs major restoration. No matter how well restored the building is the reality is that it was not designed as an art school and without total gutting and rebuilding, will never function well for that purpose.
As has been well covered, the only officially proposed development – at a low price – was the proposal by Jennifer Pritzker and voted down by the Council. We are now awaiting a new proposal that is not based upon a profit base. May this be the solution.
If the new proposal is not the solution, there is always the possibility of another scheme that will not include an art school. The problem, at the heart of the question is – what is the future of the Art Center?
The reality is that the Art Center, as it is, is a disaster in current building standards and as an art school. It is inhospitable to anyone who can not manage a flight of steep, badly functioning stairs, unusable classrooms, crammed exhibit spaces, and that is only the beginning of the list.
The crux of the problem seems to be the funding to move the center to an adequate space and do the necessary rehab to make it into what it needs to be. Other communities on the North Shore have committed to a solution to outdated and non-functional buildings. Why not Evanston? The answer of “No money” is not adequate. There are bonding and underwriting possibilities – that is the City’s job. If the City is determined to find a solution it will.
What the building must contain is not a lake view but a space that can be subdivided, on one level, with high ceilings, good light and ventilation.
Evanston residents deserve better than a maintenance-deferred, mouse-ridden, poorly-lit, ill-ventilated excuse for a school whose only reason for staying where it is, is that it has always been there.