Once Upon a Time …

… as fairy tales start, there was an understanding in the land that spending $30 million for a new bright & shiny Robert Crown Center (RCC) made more sense than spending $20 million or so renovating an old Robert Crown Center. This is what most Evanstonians remember from a year ago. Sadly, as we see it, the fairy tale ends here and the nightmare begins. 

If allowed to continue, the new Robert Crown Center will cost citizens over $80 million.  In addition, City staff projects the building operations will lose a minimum of $500,000 each year.

The Friends of Robert Crown (FRCC) web site promotes a $30 million price tag even as this fairy tale building far exceeds the original city promise: $10 million in available City bonds, $2.5 million in available Library bonds, and $17.5 million (over half the cost of the project) in private donations, sponsorships, and institutional program partnerships.  That was then.

Our Debt and Bondage…

The City Council has approved up to $50 million in the sale of bonds for the RCC project, increased the City debt limit to $150 million, is selling City assets, raising taxes, fees and fines, laid off staff and forced retirements, cut services and consolidated departments all in part to pay for the new bright and shiny Robert Crown Center currently estimated to cost $53.4 million. That’s today’s cost. 

With principal and debt payments included, paying back the bonds will cost Evanston Citizens $80 million or more over the next 25 years. This is our debt and our children’s debt. As citizens, we were given no opportunity to approve the cost implications of the new Robert Crown Center.

There is no grassroots support for a project of this size and cost. The size of this enormous expenditure should have been voted on by citizens in a binding referendum. Instead, without fanfare there were meetings with “stakeholders” that lead to expanding the project’s skyrocketing/catastrophic costs to taxpayers.

Evanston citizens deserve all the facts: 

• Who will benefit from adding scope to the project and in exchange for what?  Northwestern University has been promised significant ice time. How much?  The Beacon Academy’s web site states that “The state-of-the-art gymnasium will serve Beacon students” and will “bear the school’s name and logo.” How many days and hours a week will Beacon occupy this space? There are other so-called “donors” who may also have purchased ice time and other program space. Evanstonians who are footing the bill, have a right to know.

• Provide full transparency regarding the Friends of Robert Crown Center’s (FRCC’s) “fundraising” agreements in exchange for facility access; reveal the proposed Memorandum of Understanding and the individual Letters of Intent agreements.

• Hire an independent auditor with inspector general authority to examine and summarize all costs and procedures associated with the Robert Crown Center project and the activities of the Friends of Robert Crown Center.

The City should take steps to slow the project and reduce the project costs:

• Rescind approval to sell up to $25 million in bonds in 2019.

• Eliminate some of the added scope, reducing the building size and cost.

• Cause FRCC to raise the original goal of $17.5 million or more of real donations.  Not “donations” in exchange for access and naming rights.

Construction Cost and Award Process

The physical cost of construction and how it was awarded deserves highlighting.   The city issued an RFP in October of 2017 for Construction Management Services based upon schematic / design development drawings.  The City did not select the low qualified bid.  The City chose Bulley & Andrews (B&A) whose bid was “in the middle” of the bidders proposal range, and is a contractor who has been awarded many Evanston projects.  Not only was this unethical and unfair towards the other bidders, it cost Evanston tax payers more.

The project architect and staff agree that Evanston went on to award a $47,741,803 No-Bid Contract for construction to Bulley & Andrews on July 9, 2018.  Had the city used a competitive bid process based upon a complete set of coordinated drawings Evanston tax payers could have saved (5%) $2.4 million to (10%) $4.7 million.  Why wasn’t the project bid?

To this day, a full set of coordinated construction drawings has not been completed (despite many assurances drawings were or were nearly complete). The architects didn’t have time. Why not? Two main reasons: The scope of the project continued to change, and there is some mysterious reason for starting construction and setting an artificial project completion date to occur before the next city election. 

Buried in the $47.7 million dollar No-Bid Contract is $3,153,179 of design and construction contingency. Project change orders will not be presented to the city council until that contingency has been spent. Once the contingency is gone, any additional change orders must be presented to the city council for approval.

The $47.7 million dollar no-bid contract is referred to as a Guaranteed Maximum Price, unless there is another change order; this is a loophole.

The only way to have fully protected Evanston tax payers was to completely design the project, then bid the project openly and fairly, and then (and only then) build the building. 

Also on July 9, the City rewarded the architects, Woodhouse Tinucci, with a $1.1 million dollar contract increase for “…bidding, negotiations, permitting, construction administration and LEED commissioning services.” The contract increased to $3,246,483 or 6.8% of the construction cost. There was no General Contractor bidding exercise, and Bulley & Andrews
is performing all of the bidding and negotiations of sub-contractors contracts.  Despite how the architect and contractor agreements read, this project effectively became a Design / Build as-you-go project. 

The Anticipated Budget…

The total “anticipated budget” for the project is currently $53,313,254, excluding City staff time associated with this project for many years. This budget includes:

• $763,458 – Fundraising Contractual Services

• $3,246,483 – Architectural/Engineering Services

• $41,510 – Construction Manager “Preconstruction” (B&A) Fees

• $47,741,803 – Construction GMP (B&A) Fees

• $860,000 – Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment

• $150,000 – Utilities

• $25,000 – Abatement Consultant

• $100,000 – Abatement within the existing RCC

• $50,000 – Field Equipment

• $335,000 – Public Art

The City is only counting on $3 million of “donations” from the Friends of Robert Crown Center (FRCC). The bond sales and other funds total $50.4 million. Together in today’s dollars the total funding amount is $53.4 million; (95% of which is debt). 

Donations vs. Sales…

The Friends of Robert Crown Center have been touting a fund raising effort to achieve $15 million. FRCC said many times that Evanston is getting a $53.4 million dollar building for $38 million. With letters of intent, FRCC is making commitments (on our behalf) to institutions for naming rights and more importantly for access to the
two ice rinks and gymnasiums. 
“Pre-sales” are not donations. 

We understand these are not final and have not been approved by City Council.

City staff says there are six to eight groups that have proposed agreements of this type in Letters of Intent (LOIs).  Northwestern University is “investing” $1 million in the project in exchange for ice time. Beacon Academy has offered $500,000 for gym time and naming rights. 

The LOIs are part of FRCC’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) negotiations with the City.  The City cannot gain access to any of the “donation” funds because there is no final MOU to do so. A draft of the MOU exists but the City has not released it, pending Council review and approval.

City staff wants to bring the FRCC’s MOU and the LOIs to the City Council at the first meeting in 2019 for approval. Yet no one in the community has seen what these agreements give away. 

 Other “Donations” Listed on the FRCC Web Site Include in part …

            • Chicago Young Americans Amateur Hockey Club – $500,000

            • Team Evanston/Eleven United – $150,000

            • Evanston Youth Hockey Association – $100,000

            • Evanston Public Library Friends – $5,000

            • Nature’s Perspective Landscaping             – $5,000

            • Athletico Physical Therapy – $25,000

            • Evanston AYSO – $10,000

            • Evanston Baseball & Softball Association – $10,000

            • ERA Sports Company – $10,000

            • One of the project architects, David Woodhouse – $10,000

All is not lost …

It is possible to slow down and even stop construction and downsize the project regardless of where things stand, stop the second bond sale from occurring, cause FRCC to meet the original donation goal of one half the project cost if not at least the original stated goal of $17.5 million.

… Not The End

– by Mike Vasilko, Leslie
McMillan, Mary Rosinski
and Junad Rizki

Mr. Vasilko, Ms. McMillan, Ms. Rosinski and Mr. Rizki are part of a group concerned about the costs of the new Robert Crown Center