Evanston architect breaks ground Skokie bank, aims for gold-level LEED certification

Patrick Svitek

Surrounded by dozens of Skokie officials donning hard hats, Evanston architect Joe Behles described his latest brainchild – an environmentally savvy First Bank & Trust branch – at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning.

The location at 4007 Dempster St., currently under construction and slated to open in October, will boast a “living roof” complete with oxygen-generating vegetation, a geothermal heating system that utilizes a continuous loop of water dipping in and out of the earth, and other green features that will qualify the building for gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Behles said he hopes the validation process is complete within six months of grand opening.

The eco-friendly venture also symbolizes a broader campaign, he added. During Monday’s ceremony, Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen confirmed the green bank is part of the village’s Dempster Street revitalization project, which also includes building a similarly environmentally conscious Walgreens across the street.

“When we think about this branch, we should be thinking about the environmental effects of what we do,” Behles said.

Van Dusen agreed Behles’ work should be viewed as exemplary for further community development.

“Properties like this one set the standards for all other ones,” Van Dusen said.

Behles’ 10-person office, located at 818 Church St. in Evanston, has handled all of First Bank & Trust’s architectural demands since day one, Behles said. He added when approached about designing the bank’s newest branch, he weighed “what’s available to us and what the benefits are.”

The obvious choice was a green facility – an “exciting opportunity” for architectural innovation, he told attendees earlier in the morning.

The initiative has not been without its minor hitches, though. First Bank & Trust Chief Executive Officer Bob Yohanan joked with groundbreaking attendees that “moving that stinking utility pole” – an electric structure in the southwest corner of the site – was a nearly one-year effort.

Still, he affirmed his locally owned company’s loyalty to its client communities.

“We have a deep commitment to Skokie – the people, the businesses,” Yohanan said. “And we plan to serve them for many years to come.”

His lighthearted comments highlighted a half-hour ceremony that was filled with similar banter from other speakers.

Behles, concluding his explanation of the building’s green qualities, assured ceremony attendees he’s “happy to stick around and bore you to death” with more details. Skokie resident and First Bank & Trust Assistant Vice President LuAnn Stempel, who will be overseeing the branch’s operations, repeatedly referred to herself as the bank’s true “neighbor” – she actually lives about a mile away.

Village Manager Al Rigoni, First Bank & Trust Managing Director Jay Lytle and Chamber of Commerce representatives were also in attendance. The bank is a six-year member of the Chamber.

The Dempster Street location marks First Bank & Trust’s eighth branch. The locally owned and managed bank also maintains four offices in Evanston at 820 Church St., 2925 Central St., 741 Main St. and 824 Emerson St.

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