The Weekly: Week 5 Recap

Ilana Arougheti and Nathan Ansell

Evanston’s aldermen are discussing solutions to replace lead water pipes in private residences and a look into how Evanston’s small businesses are celebrating Valentine’s Day from hot chocolate bombs to virtual dance parties. The Weekly: Week Five Recap breaks down our top headlines with the reporters and editors who covered them.

ILANA AROUGHETI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Ilana Arougheti.

NATHAN ANSELL: And I’m Nathan Ansell. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

ILANA AROUGHETI: Here’s what’s been happening in the headlines. The Faculty Senate planned to vote on allocating their seats by tenured faculty members instead of by departments. If that happens, the Senate would include the Asian American Studies and Latina and Latino Studies programs for the first time. This effort would build on the recent push for better representation of the ethnic studies programs, which are not recognized as distinct departments and were only recently allowed to hire faculty members and grant tenure on their own.

NATHAN ANSELL: And in Evanston, a section of Church Street was renamed in honor of historian Dino Robinson, who established the North Shore’s only Black history-centered community archive. Robinson was a key figure in establishing eight African American heritage sites in Evanston and documenting the city’s history of discrimination in order to aid future reparations efforts.

ILANA AROUGHETI: Meanwhile, on campus, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications celebrated its hundredth anniversary. Medill will hold themed events throughout the next year commemorating its history and impact, beginning with a series of pre-recorded speeches by faculty leaders.

NATHAN ANSELL: Those are some of our top headlines. Now, we’re bringing you behind-the-scenes with Daily staffers to dive deeper into some of our biggest news. First up: the latest on how Evanston’s aldermen are discussing economic solutions to replace lead water pipes in private residences. The majority of the city’s water main is nearly a century old, and EPA guidelines will soon prohibit partial lead service lines. How will city officials phase these out by 2024? 

NATHAN ANSELL: And after that, a look into how Evanston’s small businesses are celebrating Valentine’s Day, from hot chocolate bombs to virtual dance parties. Stay with us to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered some of The Daily’s top stories.

ILANA AROUGHETI: Evanston has already set aside an upwards of $4.5 million toward eight city water main upgrade projects, but it won’t cover the cost of private repairs. While Evanston’s Lead Service Replacement Loan Program is already providing a maximum of $4,800 in interest-free loans toward pipe replacements, city data suggests that the average replacement costs substantially exceed this amount.

NATHAN ANSELL: Here to tell us more about this is city reporter Jason Beeferman. Jason, what did you learn about Evanston’s water systems while reporting this story?

JASON BEEFERMAN:  One of the most interesting things was that in Evanston, more than 55 percent of the water main is over 80 years old. And that their goal is only to replace 1 percent of the water main, which is only one and a half miles each year. So there’s a lot of work to do to replace this like huge, vast infrastructure that gives Evanston residents their water. Another one of the most interesting things I learned reporting this: according to Dave Stoneback, who’s the city’s Public Works Agency director, Evanston stopped using lead for water service lines in the 1980s, which was way more recent than a lot of people thought and what I would have expected. And in fact, even after that point, Chicago continued to use lead piping in their water service line infrastructure.

NATHAN ANSELL: Wow, that’s a huge project. How are they planning to finance the pipe replacements?

JASON BEEFERMAN:  Having to replace all of this piping is obviously a huge, huge, very expensive project. And it’s definitely made worse by the fact that Evanston’s budget currently has an $8 million shortfall. Evanston’s struggling, their city revenues are down, people are hurting because of the pandemic. So while all that is happening, it makes it harder for us to do these really big, but also really important, infrastructure projects that cost a lot of money.

NATHAN ANSELL: Your article described a tier system where residents in different economic brackets are offered different types of loans to use for replacing their pipes. Can you explain how this system came about?

JASON BEEFERMAN: Right now they have this lead service replacement loan program, and it gives a loan of $4,800 interest free to replace lead piping. That’s despite the fact that the average cost, according to the city, for a replacement like this, is $7,000. So even with this loan, you’re still going to have to pay a lot of money upfront. Only 7 percent, I believe, of the people who had lead replacement projects done, took up this loan program. And because of that, and because they want to encourage people to replace their lead piping, they are trying to restructure the program and make it more affordable and accessible. One of the ways that Dave Stoneback and the city staff have suggested to go about that is by making the loan tiered. 

NATHAN ANSELL: Do you have a sense of how the challenges in the pipe replacement program are going to be different for Evanston businesses versus private homeowners?

JASON BEEFERMAN: The way that it works is that the homeowners themselves are responsible for finding contractors that would complete their specific pipe replacement project. So the city recommends that the homeowners obtain bids from two or more plumbers in order to get the best possible price. So, it’s kind of like each homeowner is on their own to replace their pipes, all the city can really do is encourage them by maybe giving grants in the future or providing this loan program. From what I understand, it’s all up to the homeowner. Because it’s so expensive, there’s still little incentive in the short run to make this a budget priority, especially during COVID-19.

NATHAN ANSELL: Why is it important for City Council to keep checking in on public works projects like this one?

JASON BEEFERMAN: The water we drink is one of the basic baseline services that a city is supposed to provide its residents. There’s nothing more basic than having clean water. One of the council members, I think it was Alderman Wynne, was saying how the best type of city infrastructure is when you don’t notice it. So the best type of water system is when you don’t notice that there’s a problem. But then all of a sudden, when there’s a problem everyone’s worried about it, enev if you think about the Flint crisis. So this is really important because you know, water is such a fundamental part of our lives and part of city infrastructure. In addition to that, city residents have already reached out to me to learn about their specific piping that’s connected to their house and whether or not that contains lead. Multiple people have reached out to me about that. And I’ve directed them to the city’s public works agency.

NATHAN ANSELL: Jason, thanks so much for chatting with us.

NATHAN ANSELL: Love was in the air this weekend as Evanston celebrated a pandemic-safe Valentine’s Day. Restaurant and retail owners within the Evanston small business community came up with creative ways to get residents’ attention with special Valentines’ menu items and deals. This year’s celebrations were compiled into The Daily’s first-ever Valenguide. 

ILANA AROUGHETI: Here to tell us more about this is reporter Wendy Klunk, who put the guide together. Wendy, why do you think so many stores made an effort to create Valentine’s Day specials, even if their usual offerings aren’t very connected to holidays?

WENDY KLUNK: For one, it’s just a fun thing to do. Valentine’s Day is all about love. And love can mean so many things. Everybody needs it. With food, doing heart-shaped things is just really fun and cute way to celebrate. Also because it’s a big time of gift giving, even stores that aren’t maybe, you know, a jewelry store or a flower shop, they can jump in to show that oh, this is a unique option that you could give your lover, or your friendswho you love for Valentine’s Day. Having to celebrate Valentine’s Day on your own may be different for some people, but there’s still a lot of ways to bring joy to yourself and your friends, which I sort of wanted to highlight in the article.

ILANA AROUGHETI: What was the most unique Valentine’s Day special you encountered?

WENDY KLUNK: When I talked to the owner of La Cocinita, Rachel (Angulo), I had seen on Facebook that they were doing these heart-shaped arepas which were super cute, looked delicious. But then when she talked about the heart-shaped breakfast sandwiches that just took it to a whole new level. I didn’t know about that. It sounds absolutely delicious. Also, probably the blind date with a book that Bookends & Beginnings is doing. It’s sort of a sustainability aspect because the books that you can purchase on the blind date with a book are those that they do not need on their shelves, so they don’t really have anything to do with them. But it’s a way to get a super cheap read, only $3 for one book, or $5 for two books, and sort of discover something new that you wouldn’t pick out for yourself and really expand your reading horizons. So I think that’s pretty awesome.

ILANA AROUGHETI: You spoke to eight different businesses. What are some Valentine’s Day happenings that you learned about but didn’t get a chance to highlight in the article?

WENDY KLUNK: There’s a new student-run business called Whipped Evanston. And they’re a cupcake delivery business, they’re making cupcakes made to order. So you could have like, red white and pink cupcakes for Valentine’s Day. I talked to Pranavi (Ahuja), who’s a Northwestern junior. She’s the one of the co-owners of the business, and they were also doing for Valentine’s Day a partnering with Circle of Women, which is a club at Northwestern that helps provide secondary education to women in developing countries, and doing a fundraiser for them where people could send either six cupcakes or one cupcake to their friends and have them delivered. So that was a really cool thing they were doing.

ILANA AROUGHETI: The Daily spends a lot of time reporting on the Evanston small business world and tracking its growth and change. I’d love to hear what your sense was of the community in general.

WENDY KLUNK: I feel like it’s a really strong and connected community. The businesses seemed really connected to the community, really charitable and willing to take risks and do unique things to get through this pandemic and be very resilient.

ILANA AROUGHETI: Wendy, thanks so much for chatting with us today.

ILANA AROUGHETI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Ilana Arougheti.

NATHAN ANSELL: And I’m Nathan Ansell. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Weekly. This episode was reported on by Jason Beeferman, Wendy Klunk, Ilana Arougheti, and myself. This episode was produced by both Ilana Arougheti and myself. The audio editor of The Daily is Alex Chun. The digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis. The editor in chief is Sneha Dey. 

Email: [email protected] and [email protected]

Twitter: @ilanaarou and @NathanJAnsell

Stories Referenced: 

Faculty Senate to vote on increasing Senate representation

Black historian Dino Robinson honored with street name

Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications celebrates 100 years

City looks to provide economic support to homeowners replacing lead water pipes

From virtual dance parties to hot cocoa bombs, Evanston businesses celebrate Valentine’s Day