The upper floor of the Morton Civic Center sustained a significant amount of water damage from a weather event last February, requiring inspection and possible emergency repairs, City officials have said in a memo.

David Stoneback, the City’s Public Works Agency Director, and Lara Biggs, City Engineer, informed Council members in a memo Sept. 3 that staff plans to bring a request for emergency repairs to the building at the Sept. 13 City Council meeting.

Depending on the scope of the work, officials said, the costs could range from $150,000 to $250,000.

Evanston officials say the white deposits shown here on the south facade of Morton Civic Center are “efflorescence,” a condition where brick begins to decay because of long-term exposure to moisture. (Image from City of Evanston materials)

The damage dates back to Feb. 24 when the City Manager’s office on the fourth floor of the building, as well as the office directly below it on the third floor, were flooded with a significant amount of water at that time, the officials said.

While the source of the water has not been conclusively identified, officials are looking at the downspouts on the outside of the building as one possible cause.

In the Feb. 24 weather event, the downspouts failed by splitting open and freezing over with ice, the officials reported. “This allowed the side of the building to also be iced over, from which water could permeate the brick wall and leak into the interior,” they said.

However, officials also said, the damage is too widespread to be explained entirely as downspout failure.

Signs of water damage were found in City offices on the 4th floor of the Civic Center, including this one outside the City Manager’s office. (Image from City of Evanston materials)

The worst damage was in the fourth floor, the upper floor of offices in the building, which “would indicate it is potentially a roof or gutter issue,” said Biggs.

Because of the building height, inspection can only occur through a large lift truck or scaffolding, officials said.

Concurrently, staff has contracted with Midwest Environmental to complete a preliminary inspection to determine the extent of the interior water damage and sample for mold, officials said. The firm’s initial inspection will be conducted this week and the cost is estimated to be under $5,000.

Midwest’s initial inspection will include using thermal imaging to pinpoint locations of water intrusion.

“This information may be able to be used to focus the exterior inspection work of the roofing contractor and engineer,” Stoneback and Biggs noted. “Once any water leaks have been repaired, the interior water damage can be mitigated and repaired,” they added.

Officials are recommending that the inspection and associated repair work be completed before winter.

During the pandemic, City officials have been working with limited in-person staff at the Civic Center, a former school, where most City offices are housed.

Then-City Manager Erika Storlie said last month officials were planning a full reopening of the building Oct. 18, with staff returning sometime after Labor Day.

Biggs could not say for certain whether that timetable would be affected.

“We are working with Midwest Environmental to better locate the extent of the interior water damage and to test for mold,” she said in a text message to the RoundTable.

“Most of the walls are plaster which are usually less impacted than drywall by mold growth. If there is no mold growth and we can stop the ongoing leaks, we can probably safely open the building, but we really need more information before we make any decisions.”

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.