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City Council members approved a resolution at their April 26 meeting that will begin the process of evaluating the costs and feasibility of relocating the Civic Center and consolidating several City functions. This resolution is not a decision to relocate, but rather a way for the City to gather information to help City officials make decisions about the future of the Civic Center, said City Manager Erika Storlie in a memo.
The resolution, titled Resolution 50-R-21 and passed on the consent agenda, directs City staff to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for a study, which will examine several potential locations, estimate costs and long-term savings, and evaluate the educational, institutional, and commercial needs and benefits of relocating the Civic Center.
Ms. Storlie said she hopes the Civic Center will move into a smaller space and will share that space with other City functions, such as the Fire and Police departments. Having the Police Department in the same facility may also help the City reimagine the functions of the Police Department and ensure that social workers, victim advocates, and family advocates are working much more closely with police, she said in an interview with the RoundTable.
“We should all be in a combined facility because it makes sense for money, it makes sense for personnel, it makes sense for all the things we’re trying to achieve,” Ms. Storlie told the RoundTable.
The City will consider other possible partners, separate from City departments, if the Civic Center moves. One possible partner is Oakton Community College. A new Civic Center could provide space for an Oakton satellite campus, said Ms. Storlie in the RoundTable interview. In addition, the City is discussing the possibility of adding an affordable housing component in conjunction with a relocated Civic Center.
Not all residents approve of relocating the Civic Center. At the April 26 City Council meeting, Evanston resident Jeff Smith voiced his disapproval during public comment. “We had a City-wide referendum whereby the citizens overwhelmingly directed staying in this Civic Center,” he said. “Actions this significant should not be taken by a Council and a Mayor, half of whom are on the way out.”
Regardless of what City officials decide to do with the Civic Center, the current building, Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, needs to undergo major repairs to ensure it is up to code. According to the engineers that evaluated the building, the cost of repairs is an estimated $20 million. “The costs to improve the Civic Center to bring it to a standard that is reasonable, is far beyond what we have the financial capability to execute,” Ms. Storlie told the RoundTable.
According to Grumman/Butkus Associates, a consulting and engineering firm that examined the building’s HVAC and electrical system in 2018, the building’s heating and cooling systems are failing, the main switchgear must be replaced, and there is corroding in the pipeline. In addition to the needed HVAC repairs, the building does not comply with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) and it may not have proper ventilation and air filtration. Other recommended renovations include reconfiguring the space to separate the public from City staff, providing better security, fixing water leakages, and creating a central lobby, which it currently lacks.
The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, located at 2100 Ridge Ave., was originally built in 1901 as a Catholic parish boarding school and was purchased in 1915 by the Sisters of Providence, who titled the school the Marywood Academy.
The City of Evanston acquired the building in 1975; before that, the Civic Center was located downtown.
Since 1997, the City has considered either funding major repairs to the building or relocating it altogether. In 2009, the City decided against relocation, and after that decision, the building underwent a couple of construction projects, including a roof replacement for $1.7 million, the modernization of the elevators for $400,000, the replacement of the feedwater tank for $109,000, the replacement of the boiler burner system for $113,197, and small interior renovations. Still, the building has remained largely untouched in recent years, according to Ms. Storlie’s memo.
“The Civic Center is a ticking time bomb,” Ms. Storlie told the RoundTable. “Whether we’re going to stay or whether we’re going to go, we need to start making a plan, and we need to implement it.”