City to further research fence for Sherman Plaza garage roof after incident


(Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer)

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) speaks at a council meeting on Monday. Fiske requested that aldermen revisit the discussion of a 6-foot fence along the Sherman Plaza Parking Garage roof.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

City staff will explore ways to add safety measures to the Sherman Plaza Parking Garage after an attempted suicide in January, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said at a council meeting Monday.

In January, a woman was taken to the hospital after she stood close to the edge of the parking garage for several hours. Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), whose ward encompasses the downtown area, said while the response from the Evanston Police Department and Evanston Fire Department was substantial, “clearly something needs to be done with the roof of the Sherman Avenue parking garage.”

Fiske requested that aldermen revisit the discussion of installing a 6-foot fence along the roof of the garage, which would cost nearly $25,000, according to city documents.

“This is going to be an ongoing problem,” Fiske said. “The fence is a deterrent. It’s not going to prevent suicides, but it is going to give people the time to pause that might be the difference between life and death.”

Aldermen previously denied proposals for netting and fencing in 2014, saying they would not be sufficient in suicide prevention. From November 2013 to May 2014, two people died from falling from the top of Evanston parking garages and one after falling from a condominium at 1720 Maple Ave. City Council considered building the fence again in January 2017, but no action was taken.

Bobkiewicz said the proposed fence does not have any barbed wire, but curves at the top, which would make it more difficult for someone to climb over the fence.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said if the fence had barbed wire or something else that would prevent someone from climbing over, he would be more inclined to explore a solution. He said he is concerned the city could not build a fence high enough to deter someone inclined to jump from the garage.

Braithwaite added that before he can support a fencing plan, he wants to make sure the city places the safest fence possible that will not make Evanston liable in the event of an incident. But Bobkiewicz said if the city builds a fence, it would be liable and not the contractor.

“No one wants this to happen whether it’s on that rooftop or any other rooftop,” Braithwaite said. “It’s just a very tough reality that we have to deal with.”

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said the city should conduct more research to see if there is anything — including netting and fencing options — that will substantially deter people from “taking a leap.”

However, Braithwaite raised concerns that they are now “opening up Pandora’s box.” By looking to increase the safety of one garage rooftop, he said the city will then need to look at all of the parking garages in downtown Evanston.

Bobkiewicz said the fence seemed to be the best solution when officials last talked to experts about the situation, but added that they can revisit the research to see if there are any new developments.

He said the aldermen can also consider different strategies like putting up signs or providing emergency phone services. The city will come back with more information at a council meeting in May, Bobkiewicz said.

“While the Sherman garage seems to have more activity than the rest, it is not exclusive,” Bobkiewicz said. “There are issues around all of them.”

Twitter: @sn_handler