Evanston animal shelter advocates, after more than three years’ of efforts to replace the city’s cramped animal shelter with a new facility, were rewarded with success Monday night as City Council members approved a $6.85 million contract with a construction firm to move forward on the project.

About $3.8 million of the total project cost will come from city funds.

Council members voted 8-1 to enter into the contract with CCC Holdings to replace the current shelter, at 2318 Oakton St.

Evanston Animal Shelter architectural drawing. Credit: Submitted

The Council action came three years to the day that the city and members of the Evanston Animal Shelter Association (EASA), the largely volunteer group that operates the shelter for the city, received word of a $2 million Cook County Animal Shelter grant, setting the project in motion, said Vicky Pasenko, EASA’s executive director.

“We’ve been holding our breath, just waiting for this to happen — and not sure it would,” she said, surrounded by other elated EASA members outside Council chambers after the vote.

“We need a groundbreaking now. Let’s go!” she said.

The group had raised more than a $1 million for a new building. That contribution will be combined with a $2.175 million from the city’s Capital Improvement Fund raised through the issuance of General Obligation Bonds, $2 million from a Cook County Animal Shelter Grant Program, and another $1.55 million from the city’s General Fund.

At the meeting, animal shelter supporters packed council chambers in one of the largest resident turnouts since the pandemic, breaking into applause after the council’s vote.

During public comment portion of the meeting, most of the 45 speakers spoke in support of a new shelter.

Brittany  Kirk, the president of EASA and a founding member of the board, noted that EASA offers “programs that provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to the city of Evanston — not just by caring for animals, but also by supporting families in Evanston, so that they can provide for their pets, so that means so much to them.”

“Without a new shelter,” she said, “those programs are not going to continue, and it’s the most vulnerable residents of Evanston  who  are going to suffer. Tonight, after a more than a three-year process and competitive bidding … The Council has the opportunity to approve a new building with nearly half the costs coming through a grant from Cook County and private fundraising.”

One of the other speakers, Dr. Gail Henry, owner of the Evanston Animal Hospital, 516 Dempster St., told council members that she has been in the shelter’s current facilities on a number of occasions, “and can tell you first hand that the current building is not sustainable — and that’s coming from a health standpoint for the pets that are in their care. It likely is creating a lot of stress and can be detrimental to their [pets’] health.”

Shelter’s high cost a concern

A handful of speakers on the other side, though, called on the city to hold off on acting on the proposal, citing the new shelter’s projected cost.

“It’s unfortunate so many people are speaking as if the world is against the animal shelter, because we’re not against the animal shelter,” said Michael Vasilko, an architect and longtime city budget observer. “I mean, you could build a much larger shelter if you built a design that was compatible with the overall average for building shelters,” he told Council members.

“We’re at $800 to $1,000 a square foot, where the average cost is between $400 and $500, maybe $600 at the very highest.”

Evanston Animal Shelter Association volunteers as well as staff have long raised concerns about the cramped conditions at the current animal shelter facility, including no intake area for animals being dropped off, minimal adoption facilities, and no space for in-house medical procedures.

Constructed in 1973, the 2,800-square-foot shelter was originally intended to house a small number of animals for a short time, Shane Cary, the city’s Architect/Project Manager, noted in a memo.

“Euthanasia was utilized to manage the number of animals that were in residence. Because of the age of the building, it was not designed with modern shelter standards in mind.

“In 2017, staff raised concerns about the deficiencies of the existing shelter building and its inability to support current operations.”

“One key concern is the age and deteriorated condition of the HVAC system,” Cary wrote. “The replacement of the HVAC system, which is sorely needed, cannot be completed without a substantial expansion to the shelter building. Doing so would trigger the requirement to update the building to meet current building codes, which is not feasible with the existing building.”

Construction inflation

Cary told council members that some of the high cost of the project is due to inflation within the construction industry, “which has been extreme over the past year and a half.”

Costs associated with the city’s Climate Action Resilience Plan and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards also may also have contributed to Evanston’s project coming in higher, he said.

Council Member Devon Reid, in whose Eighth Ward the shelter is located, noted that without the LEED certification and soil remediation, the cost of the project would be in line with other communities.

Still, he said, “It’s very clear that the sentiment in the community is we need to make this investment [in those areas]. It’s a value statement.”

Robert Crown redux?

Council member Clare Kelly 1st, Ward, the lone Council member to vote against the funding, questioned the issue’s being designated as a special order of business, forgoing a committee hearing of an issue that would take place under the regular process.

“I don’t like, as I don’t think anybody likes, making numbers on the fly like this,” she said of the project, estimated to have $8 million total cost.

“We never voted on the scope of the project. This is feeling a little like a Robert Crown redux, frankly,” she said the community center project which, according to some estimates, came in more than $20 million beyond the original estimates.

“I think I’m with everybody about supporting the animal shelter,” she said. “I just don’t think that financial accountability, responsibility and a new animal shelter — these are not mutually exclusive.”

Council member Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward, appointed to fill her seat until a special election next month, spoke of the outpouring of support for the project as an influence.

“One of the things that we hear residents say is that we need to listen to the voices of the residents. And I just took a tally, because, as my counterparts have mentioned, we have received over 100 emails about puppies, kittens — even roosters,” she said, about the campaign supporters had waged for a new shelter.

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.

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  1. Glad to hear about Fundong for the EAS. This has been something the EAS has been working on for Years. Frankly, it’s been long overdue. I know that money and numbers are a concern but I am not sure this is crunching numbers in a hurry. This has been in the works for a while. The EAS is a great asset to our community.

  2. The budgeting and process for this is so irresponsible. Clair Kelly is right. We all want the shelter but this budget is crazy.

    As an example, this project in Michigan was built during the pandemic for $398 per square foot vs the $800 – $1000 per square foot that Evanston just approved.

    Let’s see what our alders get for the furriest citizens of Evanston with our tax money.

    Here is the project that comes in at $398 per square foot – https://www.archdaily.com/987699/michigan-animal-rescue-league-ply-plus?ad_source=search&ad_medium=projects_tab

  3. Evanston can now rightly boast that it will have the most expensive animal shelter (per sq. ft.) in the world! When completed, I expect my dog will abandoned me for nicer, more expensive digs. So long, my friend. I will miss you.

  4. It’s a shame this project is LEED certified and not EPA Star rated. LEED certification is done before the building is built & many LEED certified buildings actually use MORE energy than non-LEED certified buildings of a similiar size and age. EPA star ratingd are based on actual energy consumption measured after the project is completed, and in my opinion is s more meaningful green certificatation.

  5. It would really be helpful to us Evanston residents if reporting on city council votes you gave us the details as to how each council voter voted.

    1. That is a great point, Marjory. This was a small teaser story, so we could make sure people knew what happened. But we have a larger one I am posting within the hour. That information will be there. Thank you very much for your post. Susy Schultz, editor

    2. Majory Basso, All the council members except one, Clare Kelly (1st, Ward) voted for it. I believe Clare Kelly’s main objection was the cost, thinking the numbers were developed “on the fly”. I don’t know if that was actually true, or not. There are construction cost estimator standards and you can develop pretty accurate costs from them fairly quickly.

  6. I am so happy about this decision by our council members. Certain
    reservations expressed by some alder persons and taxpayers were understandable, but this EASA could have lost the $2 million grant from Cook County if we “kicked the can down the road”. And as one alder person said, whatever new shelter would be decided on at some later date would also be subject to further rising costs. This was something I also believe, seeing what my own costs are for just materials for projects being done at my home. The environmentally sound practices in Evanston are also a cost factor. I am delighted this is going to happen. And like many supporters of EASA, I had already donated and will now certainly donate more. I think in the end every animal lover will be proud to see what results. While the full discussion last evening was a good debate, I am glad for the decision that resulted. Thank you, City Council.

    1. I agree, Janelle. Like Councilmember Burns said at the meeting, people always say they know someone who can do it cheaper — so why didn’t that someone submit a bid? Because they’re all talk. The process was public and took three years! Hardly the rush job some are making it out to be.