Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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City debates Center as it continues to fall apart

The scaffolding creeping up the sides of the Evanston Civic Center serves as a reminder of the building’s poor condition, aldermen said this week.

“I’m always thinking of it,” said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th). “Every time I go in there I have to walk under the scaffolding put up to protect us from falling pieces of the roof.”

As the center, 2100 Ridge Ave., continues to deteriorate, city staff and Evanston residents are looking into what repairs the building needs and how much they would cost. The Evanston City Council has discussed selling the property and relocating the seat of the city government.

Residents working to preserve the center have tried to convince the Council that the center should and can be saved for a reasonable price. They argue that the structure, which once served as a school and is an example of Georgian architecture, should be preserved.

“Any building is expensive after a time and this one is important,” said John Kennedy, founder of the preservation group Friends of the Civic Center and a member of the resident committee.

City staff estimate repairs would cost about $20 million. The resident committee said 64 percent of the estimation comes from exaggerated costs and unnecessary spending such as new carpeting and furniture, according to their Oct. 19 presentation to the Planning and Development Committee. The resident committee said that, with their proposals, the city could cut the immediate cost of staying to $1.7 million.

For a while the city believed no one still manufactured or sold the heat pumps essential to the heating system, Assistant Director of Facilities Management David Cook said. The building uses more than 100 of these pumps. Without them the city would need to replace the entire heating system. The residents’ committee said they found quotes at $200,000 per unit for the component through an Internet search and city staff are looking into prospects.

They also suggested reinstalling the slate roof for $1.5 million instead of replacing it for a much higher cost.

Cook said the city is still investigating these numbers, but some costs are inevitable. For example, he said the city needs to install a new cooling tower expected to cost $80,000 this winter.

“Generally speaking, all of the major systems are at or beyond their life expectancy,” Cook said. “We have maintenance crews here all the time.”

He said the plumbing, electrical and heating systems all pose serious problems.

“We’ve already sprung some leaks and some pipes are rusted right through,” he said. The property also lacks modern plumbing components, such as a sprinkler system.

Several elements of the building fail to meet code. Cook said the wooden structure stretches up 16 feet above what zoning laws allow, and steps leading to bathrooms fail to meet handicapped accessibility requirements.

Those who use the building said they notice more physically apparent problems.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said he felt surprised when he went into the financial department and found peeling paint hanging from the ceiling.

In one instance, a piece of falling ceiling interrupted a discussion about moving the center when it fell and water began leaking from the new hole, Moran said.

“I thought that one was providential,” he said.

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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City debates Center as it continues to fall apart