The City received a grant of $750,000 initially from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to install a state-of-the-art “green” parking lot behind the Morton Civic Center at 2100 N. Ridge Ave. (City of Evanston photo)

Evanston officials could only congratulate themselves on their good fortune in 2014 when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) announced it would be giving the City $750,000 toward construction of a state-of-the-art “green” parking lot behind the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, where most government offices were then housed. 

The grant was to go with $500,000 the City pledged to chip in to transform a basic asphalt lot into a sustainable lot with plantings and rain gardens to catch water runoff. 

A porous-concrete sidewalk and porous asphalt and paver-block parking stalls were installed so as not to impede the storm-water overflow to the rain gardens on the north side of the park. 

Well, that was the plan. 

At the Aug. 9 City Council Administration & Public Works Committee meeting, new Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, following up on an email inquiry he had sent, asked officials about a $700,000 contract with a Chicago cement company to do repairs throughout town, including in the lot behind the Civic Center, 2100 N. Ridge Ave. 

A portion of the total bill, about $45,000, will go toward replacing the crumbling concrete. 

The project, awarded to Capitol Cement Co., consists of improvements to three alleys, installation of traffic-calming speed humps on various streets and speed bumps in various alleys – as well as replacement of the porous concrete in the Civic Center parking lot. 

“How old is the concrete that we’re replacing?” Nieuwsma asked David Stoneback, the City’s Public Works Agency Director. “I understand that we installed it based on a MWRD requirement. They paid for it, but it was on us to maintain it. And it did not last very long, as it exceeded its lifespan or did not live up to its lifespan.” 

Stoneback confirmed that was the case with the $750,000 MWRD project. 

“As part of that project, Evanston was basically testing out different types of permeable pavement,” he told Council members. 

“So we put in the parking stalls, we used porous asphalt in one section, porous concrete in another and paver brick in a third area. And unfortunately, the porous concrete failed much sooner than anticipated. Evanston has experienced that situation throughout town. So we are no longer using porous concrete on any of our permeable projects.” 

Nieuwsma asked whether the problem was contractor-related. 

Responded Stoneback, “The only company we could get porous concrete from is Ozinga at this time. Different contractors installed it, but basically under Ozinga’s direct supervision, indicating that it was installed properly. 

“It just does not wear well,” Stoneback said. “I don’t know if it’s a situation with the plows, the salt or what the exact cause is, but it has failed in almost every location that we’ve placed it.”

Nieuwsma confirmed, “We are obligated in the Civic Center parking lot to replace the deteriorated pavers material with permeable material.” 

Stoneback said that would be the case. 

Christopher Venatta, Senior Project Manager for the City, noted in a memo, “The porous concrete is showing multiple locations of failure throughout the area. … The City is required to maintain the porous pavement in this parking lot via an intergovernmental agreement with Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in which the City received funding to construct the lot. The failing concrete areas will be replaced with the City’s preferred porous pavement material which is the permeable paver blocks.”

Staff recommended Capitol Cement Co., Inc., which has completed various projects for the City, be awarded the total $700,000 contract for the project, which includes improvements to three alleys as well as the estimated $45,000 Civic Center project. 

The City will tap federal Community Block Grant Development funds ($419,110) for the bulk of the funding, and will use Special Assessments, a General Obligation bond and the Sewer Fund to fund the rest.

Bob Seidenberg

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.