City to find consultants for Civic Center relocation


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. The city will begin to search for consultants who will study the feasibility of relocating the center.

Ilana Arougheti, Copy Chief

The city will begin to search for consultants who will study the feasibility of relocating the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center based on a resolution approved by City Council Monday.

The council has been considering recommendations to relocate the Civic Center since last May due to the high cost of anticipated repairs. The Civic Center, which is located at 2100 Ridge Ave., has been closed to the public since March 2020, though it recently opened for essential workers.

The approved resolution is not an authorization to move the center. Instead, City Manager Erika Storlie explained in a memo the resolution authorizes city staff to reach out to consultants to choose the firm that will conduct a study on whether the city should relocate the Civic Center.

Carlis Sutton, an incoming Reparations Commission member, said many Evanston residents would prefer to keep the Civic Center where it is, since moving the building would have an associated financial cost. 

Ray Friedman, a 2nd Ward resident, said he wishes there were more opportunities for residents to publicly express their opinions on the relocation effort.

“Before a (Request for Proposal) goes out, before you try to figure out what you want — what we want — to do with (the) Civic Center,” Friedman said. “It needs to be discussed with residents.”

According to the memo, the current building was converted into the Civic Center in 1970, and a need for renovation to multiple building systems became clear around 1997. Community discussion about relocation took place between 1997 and approximately 2009. City Council ultimately did not go through with moving the civic center and continued to institute improvements over the following few years,  including installing a new roof and new elevators.

Though renovations and relocation of the Civic Center have been discussed in previous council meetings, Monday’s meeting was the first time a formal Request for Proposal regarding the Civic Center specifically appeared on the docket. 

Today, necessary repairs to the current building would cost between $12 and $17 million.

Fixing the Civic Center’s HVAC heating and cooling system would cost $10 million in 2019 dollars alone, Storlie said, and the current electrical system is too small to support the HVAC system as it stands today. 

Storlie also said in the memo that the building’s current heating and cooling systems are incompatible with the Evanston Climate Action Resilience Plan, which has set a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions for new buildings and building renovations since 2018. The city also has concerns about a predicted need for emergency plumbing, roofing and air filtration upgrades to the center before it re-opens to the public, due to existing damage to the building and to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The resolution was one of the current City Council’s last acts, since four new alderpeople —  along with five incumbents — will be sworn in at the next council meeting on May 10.

Several residents, including landlord Tina Paden, Sutton and 2017 mayoral candidate Jeff Smith, expressed frustration that the outgoing council was initiating such a large physical and financial change to city infrastructure on their way out.

Smith said he remembered Mayor Steve Hagerty encouraging residents to respond to council decisions they disagreed with by voting in the next municipal election. He said pushing approving major changes in the eleventh hour takes democratic power away from community members.

“Actions this significant should not be taken by a council and a mayor, half of whom are on the way (out),” Smith said.

According to the memo, relocation will allow the city to address various complaints about the design of the current building, which currently include challenges to security, concerns about theft, imbalanced layout of men’s versus womens’ bathrooms and uneven distribution of Wi-Fi connection. 

Council plans to vote directly on relocation in the coming months, based on the recommendations of whichever consultant is chosen.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ilana_arougheti

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