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The red clay tile roof adorning the historic St. Mary’s Parish Center building, located between the McGaw YMCA Child Care Center and St. Mary’s chapel on Lake Street, became the focus of controversy at the April 11 City Council meeting. The City’s preservation ordinances require a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) when the owner of a designated historic building proposes changes, and St. Mary’s proposed replacing the red clay tiles with asphalt shingles.

The preservation commission and City Staff both recommended denying the COA. City Council, however, appeared prepared to overturn the Preservation Commission’s decision based upon the difference in cost alone. Ultimately, they decided to delay a decision until May 9 and allow an investigation into alternative materials – a compromise somewhere between the allegedly climate-inappropriate clay tiles and aesthetically unappealing asphalt shingles.

The main issue, unsurprisingly, is the cost of clay tiles both at the time of installation and in maintenance costs in the future. “Clay tile is a maintenance headache. It’s also $100,000 more,” said Jim Wolinski, a spokesman for the church and former City employee.

“No one has a greater respect for the Preservation Committee than me,” he also said. “But I respectfully disagree” on this issue. Clay tiles in a region with winters like Evanston is just not appropriate, he said.

Father Greg Sakowicz told Council the church spent $3 to $4 million on infrastructure improvements over the last six years. “I am begging the Council to support” overturning the Preservation Commission’s recommendation.

Council appeared torn, but prepared to agree to the church’s request. “This is another one of those difficult situations.” said Alderman Don Wilson, whose Fourth Ward includes the church. “Cost is a factor, and something we cannot overlook. On the other hand, there are rules and restrictions that others in the neighborhood have to abide by.” He said he “observed from the side” the application process through the Preservation Commission “hoping for compromise.” He asked if the church sought alternative funding, such as grants, to cover the added cost.

The church representatives indicated that the church did not qualify for any grants for the tile roof.

“I would agree that the amount of money to restore a clay tile roof seems excessive,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. “Have you looked at alternatives?” He mentioned fiberglass tiles with appearance similar to clay tile

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said, “I understand economic hardship, but it hasn’t been demonstrated here. Owning an historic structure is a hardship, but one we all take on.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, agreed. “I looked at this building very carefully today. It’s landmarked for a reason,” she said. “Fiberglass shingles are inappropriate for that building.”

They appeared to be in the minority, however.

Father Sakowicz said the church believes in placing “people before things. I’d rather feed the poor. If I have to cut $150,000 of a budget for the poor; for a roof – that bothers me.

Mr. Wolinski said the building was given landmark status, to the best of his recollection, as part of a push during the 1980s. “We were designated a landmark, and we have been living with that designation ever since,” he said. It was not the church’s choice, he said he believed.

Ald. Tendam said, “I’m not going to agree to force your hand [and cost you] $100,000. I won’t support the [Preservation] Commission, but hope you would consider some sensitivity” in selecting a roofing material other than standard roofing shingles.

“I do think it would be ideal to have a distinctive roof,” said Ald. Wilson. “I certainly agree that people come before things.” He suggested storing and preserving the tiles, if they are removed, for possible restoration later.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said the photos of the building with its existing roof and another with a shingle roof superimposed showed “a dramatically different building.” she called “on all existing expertise in the area to come forth” with suggested alternatives.

During the discussion, Ald. Wynne searched the internet for alternatives, and came up with a suggestion. Council then voted to hold the matter until May 9 to give the church an opportunity to come up with a compromise cheaper than clay tile but less “dramatically different than run of the mill shingles.”