City Council discusses relocation of city staff from the Civic Center to Evanston Public Library


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. The city has named three finalists for its next city manager.

Julia Richardson, Reporter

City Council discussed relocating Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center staff to the Evanston Public Library on Monday. Evanston’s Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief Lara Biggs said city staff does not know how long it will take to relocate due to COVID-19 but is predicting anywhere from three months to three years with either a complete or phased relocation plan.

Currently, there are 30 full-time employees working in the Civic Center in person and 130 employees working primarily remotely, according to Biggs. As staff considers opening up the building to necessary public processes, maintaining social distancing between staff and the public will prove to be difficult. Biggs said without relocation, modifications would have to be made in order to safely conduct these processes.

Biggs said there are around 5,800 square feet in the Evanston Public Library immediately available, but there is still not adequate space for relocating all of the Civic Center’s operations.

“The smaller the space you’re utilizing, the easier it is to go through the incredible sanitation procedures that are in the state guidelines (for) working in a pandemic,” Biggs said. “One issue with the Civic Center is that while it’s an advantage because it’s large and the staff can spread out, once we have more people in the building, that also somewhat becomes a liability.”

Complete relocation would require a significant amount of staff resources, and staff would have to navigate a limited work area but could continue to work remotely or with staggered schedules to minimize numbers due to COVID-19. The plan would exclude council chambers and public meeting rooms, as city meetings are expected to remain virtual in the upcoming months.

A phased relocation plan would require a moderate amount of work. Only public-facing functions would move to the library at first, which would act as the lowest cost option that allows for a safe separation of staff and the public, Biggs said.

A phased plan would also allow for a one-stop customer service desk, which requires a minimal amount of staff resources for implementation. According to Interim City Manager Erika Storlie, although the library does not offer enough space for all city operations, it would offer a better customer service experience for residents, as the Civic Center has proven difficult to navigate.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) expressed an interest in investing in the Civic Center, partially due to a concern about multiple locations being utilized for city services.

“I think we should go to the public. I don’t think the public’s going to want to move (Civic Center operations),” Rainey said. “We’re talking about fragmented locations. I think it’s a mistake.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), in contrast, favored a phased relocation plan.

“The cost of retrofitting (the Civic Center) is so much more expensive than we even realize and it still is an inefficient building,” she said. “In our future, we are going to have to have cleaner air, cleaner surfaces, cleaner buildings, and we need to have a space that’s designed to accommodate that in the most efficient way.”

Storlie said there are limited options around providing public services from the Civic Center, and full-scale renovation cannot happen in a short period of time. The building’s current HVAC system does not offer the type of ventilation required to allow the public back in safely during a global pandemic. Some services could continue remotely, but some are easier in person, which relocation to the library would allow.

Storlie also said if the council decided that city operations would move out of the Civic Center completely in the future, a committee formed by the council would take the lead on repurposing the building. The committee would most likely comprise both council members and residents.

“The community will be involved every step of the way,” she said. “This is the community’s building, and if it’s gonna remain the community’s building or some other version of the community’s building, that’s a decision for the community to weigh in on certainly.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @juliaa_grace