If it seems like downtown’s Sherman Parking Garage is a little dimmer these days, well, that’s not your imagination. “The lights that are in there have been in there since 2013,” Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie told aldermen on the City Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee at the group’s Jan. 28 meeting. 

“We got a grant from the state to put those lights in and, as with all technology that evolved. … The light fixtures that we put in are no longer available. We’ve already lost about 20% of those lights, and we cannot replace them. So staff is playing a cat-and-mouse game of every time a light goes out – take one from another place, put it over there, so that you don’t have huge gaps without any lights.”

    Ms. Storlie’s comments came after Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, sought more information about staff’s recommendation of a $334,618 contract with The Ogni Group for the lighting upgrade at the City’s 1,583-space garage. Ald. Braithwaite asked about a schedule for the savings the City would achieve with that kind of spending, noting the contract amount “is a lot for lighting.”

Staff said the upgrade is badly needed. To Ald. Braithwaite’s question, Storlie noted in a follow-up response that, “Overall, the parking garage lighting has a seven-year return on investment by way of reduced electricity costs. Further, the new LED fixtures will automatically dim during the day when sufficient light shines in the garage, so the life span of the bulbs will be extended and less electricity used.”

In a memo, staff noted that since the lighting was installed in 2013, “The technology for light fixtures has been changing rapidly in the past 10 to 12 years, and the existing light fixtures have become obsolete. Replacement parts are very difficult to find and not currently in production.

“This project will replace every ceiling and wall mounted light fixture with a new LED light fixture.  These fixtures provide substantially more light than the current fixtures with the same energy.”

In discussion at the Council meeting, Alderman Judy Fiske, whose First Ward includes a portion of downtown, noted that the expenditure amounts to more than half of the $650,000 now in the parking fund. She asked what other projects are coming down the line for which the City will have to draw funds from that account.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted that the City will receive a still-to-be determined reimbursement for the lighting improvement from residents of Sherman Plaza who use a portion of the garage for parking. He said another major infrastructure project planned for the garage involves cameras. However, officials will not know the cost of the camera project until the lighting is done, Mr. Bobkiewicz said, because the two systems have to work together.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, spoke in support of moving forward. “We talk a lot about how important economic development is to this City and infrastructure, and this is one of our major garages,” she said. “We’ve just done Fountain Square, and the garage has to be lighted. It seems like a huge number of lights are out. They don’t even make them anymore.”

Alderman Fiske was well aware of the situation. “I park in Sherman Plaza on snow days,” she said. “I know the conditions.”

Aldermen voted 8-0 in favor of moving forward on the project.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.