Council votes for Evanston architecture firm

Ryan Maldonado and Ryan Maldonado

Mayor Lorraine Morton on Monday vetoed a June 11 City Council decision over the contract to rebuild Fire Station #3, 1105 Central St.

The council had voted 5-to-2 to award a contract to Guajardo Associates, a Chicago-based architecture firm to demolish and rebuild the fire station for about $180,000.

But after Morton’s veto, the council recanted and gave the contract to Yas/Fischel Partnership, a local firm that offered to do the job for about $150,000.

Morton said she wasn’t keen on the council’s decision to take Guajardo over Yas/Fischel, 1603 Orrington Ave. She said she also was dissatisfied with the reasoning behind the recommendation made by city officials who were assigned to evaluate the proposals of 10 different architectural firms to go with Guajardo.

“The info (from the staff) did not support eliminating the Evanston firm,” Morton said. “Guajardo is a good firm, but so is Fischel, and Fischel is an Evanston resident.

“They were completely qualified and (Fischel) was $30,000 cheaper, so I felt they should have it,” she said.

Morton said that after the June 11 meeting, she immediately requested more documentation on each firm’s proposal so she could analyze the data on her own. She said she found that the staff had originally recommended Yas/Fischel, but the decision was overruled by the Administration and Public Works committee.

“The council latched on to a couple of phrases in the recommendation from the staff,” said Ald. Gene Feldman (9th), who was one of two who voted down the June 11 proposal to hire Guajardo. “The staff’s memo was a bit confusing … it says this company is more experienced.

“It’s one thing if you think the other company is significantly better,” Feldman added. “When I looked at the criteria, Yas/Fischel was as capable as any company.”

After Morton announced the veto, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) encouraged the council to override it, saying that Guajardo was the more experienced firm. Rainey’s contention was based on Guajardo’s work with the Chicago Fire Department, in which the firm was hired to design a prototype for the city’s stations.

“The city of Chicago … said they had nothing but a positive experience with (Guajardo),” Rainey said at Monday’s meeting. “Yas/Fischel cannot come close to this firm.”

According to Morton and Feldman, the real problem with the staff’s memorandum was that it suggested that Guajardo had actually completed real fire stations in Chicago, when the firm had merely drawn up blue prints for a prototype.

“This company has never built a fire station,” Feldman said. “(Ald.) Art Newman (1st) made it very clear that if they had built 10 to 15 stations, then we could evaluate those.

“One of the worst fire stations we have was built by company that had built 40 others before that,” Feldman added. “The fact someone has built 40 fire stations doesn’t mean anything.”

After some debate between aldermen, a motion was given to award the job to Yas/Fischel. The proposal was supported by the council 5-to-2, with Rainey and Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) opposing it.

Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th) abstained from the vote because of a conflict of interest. Engelman has represented Yas/Fischel as an attorney in the past.

Rainey, fearful that Guajardo had already been given a contract from Evanston, suggested that there was a possibility that Guajardo would seek a lawsuit for recanting the offer. But Dave Ervin, co-owner of the Chicago firm, said they had not yet received a contract and that he was happy Evanston did what they thought was best for the project.

“The department said someone else was selected,” Ervin said. “There’s no possibility of litigation … we have to respect the client’s wishes. Our business goes that way sometimes.”