City services may relocate to Evanston Public Library


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Over the summer, City Council discussed budgetary concerns related to the COVID-19 recession and the possibility of defunding or reimagining Evanston Police Department.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

Evanston City Council on Tuesday considered temporarily relocating city operations, currently at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, to the Evanston Public Library.

The civic center at 2100 Ridge Avenue is costly to maintain and requires improvements valued between $12 million and $17 million, according to a 2019 city analysis. City Council has debated relocating the center since 1998.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said a study conducted about a decade ago found the center was much larger than needed. She said a relocation is “long overdue.”

“When I first moved here years ago, (I) was like, ‘What is the Civic Center during there when we have the police and fire headquarters right downtown?’” Wynne said.

Improvement costs include $7.1 million to repair the heating and cooling system and $3 million for an electrical system. The building, which originally held the all-girls Marywood Academy, was built in 1909 and had an addition constructed in 1925.

Currently, EPL has “substantial underutilized space” on the third floor, according to a memorandum. The library could be repurposed to house 50 to 70 employees, the memorandum said.

Though 210 city employees work in offices at the Ridge Avenue location, only a portion of the offices hold “customer facing” services like payments and document pick-up and drop-off.The civic center also currently holds community and city government meetings.

If the city decides to vacate the building, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said the building could be repurposed for affordable housing development.

Moving operations to downtown Evanston could bring economic profit to local businesses, said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager.

Zalmezak said office workers typically spend about $100 dollars every week shopping and eating in the areas surrounding their workplaces. Relocating the civic center downtown, he said, could expand the customer base for struggling Downtown Evanston businesses.

Fiske said the civic center’s current location does not meaningfully contribute to the Downtown economy.

“Right now all our civic center is doing is providing a really nice parking lot and the place to go pay your bills,” Fiske said. “You come out of our civic center right now and you’re not saying, ‘Oh, where can I go to have lunch or do something else?’ You’re basically going in there and leaving.”

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said the current location’s large parking lot is an asset to city functions. She said parking near EPL is less accessible, a potential problem for late-night Council meetings with large crowds.

Rainey also said she didn’t like the idea of sharing the space with EPL.

“If we’re going to have it, we should have it all to ourselves,” Rainey said. “It should be ‘The City Hall.’”

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