Evanston residents and councilmembers discuss 2023 Capital Improvement Plan


Daily photo file by Jacob Wendler

Some Evanston residents are concerned about Evanston’s 2023 Capital Improvement Plan.

Avani Kalra, City Editor

Evanston residents expressed concern about the city’s 2023 Capital Improvement Plan at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The Capital Improvement Plan helps fund the city’s parks, facilities and other annual projects, including street resurfacing and streetlight pole replacement. City staff presented a plan for capital improvement in the coming year and requested guidance on which projects to prioritize on Monday. 

“Our concern was that, specifically in parks and facilities, we have a number of projects that are responding to crises,” city engineer Lara Biggs said. “We are unable to address all of them that are occurring.”

Because of recent infrastructure “crises,” Biggs said there is a large increase in the parks and facilities program projects budget for next year. Her presentation showed the program budget will jump from $10 million to $24 million. 

Biggs said staff expects to see some problems in achieving such a large jump.

“The staff is not actually recommending that we spend $24 million,” she said. “Staff is not robust enough, we don’t have enough staff to manage that kind of increase. We are requesting some guidance.” 

Biggs said it is likely not possible to revitalize and maintain the number of public spaces the city would ideally address. Evanston currently has 12 playgrounds that are more than 25 years old, she said, while the life of a playground is only 15 years. 

Similarly, six of the city’s facilities are reaching the end of their useful life. While improvements will be made to four of the six facilities, the future of the other two — Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the fire headquarters — are still unclear. 

“We don’t have everything exactly yet, but it is enough to know that to maintain these six facilities we will be really shorting doing the facilities work in 90% of our other buildings,” Biggs said. 

Though she said she knows people want to see all of Evanston’s amenities open, maintaining the city’s existing amenities requires a certain level of funding. But if the city chooses to reduce its amenities and focus on immediate and necessary improvements, less funding will be needed. 

Biggs mentioned several urgent improvements. Evanston’s Animal Shelter does not currently abide by ADA regulations. Evanston’s Ecology Center is experiencing a structural failure in its mechanical and electrical rooms and the water plant needs to install a fire sprinkler system. 

“We currently have four projects on the CIP that would qualify with immediate life safety improvement,” Biggs said. “These projects include emergency repairs for a sewer … they tend to result in street failures that are pretty intense.” 

Still, cutting down on the overall budget and focusing on the most necessary improvements was not popular with everyone. Public commenters like Carlis Sutton questioned the increase, because some projects begun by the city in 2022 are not set to continue. 

He said his alley, which is paid for by the city, has not been completed. 

Regardless of Biggs’ statement on necessary city improvements, Sutton said it is unclear to him why the city is not repaving his alleyway but is repairing floors around the Robert Crown Community Center — something for which next year’s plan allocates $200,000. 

“To me, (Robert Crown Community Center) is the biggest white elephant that the city of Evanston has ever invested in and it doesn’t seem to have any redeeming features the majority of the year,” Sutton said. 

[Read about the Robert Crown renovations and resulting community responses.]

These changes are in addition to Evanston’s annual improvements. Biggs said capital improvement plans are important because a lot of the funds go toward things like fire code and safety issues, investing in long-term safety improvements. 

Biggs said funding varies year to year, but the city spends about $3.5 million in general obligations on those projects each year. The funds include motor fuel tax funds for street resurfacing, water funds for paying for water main funds and swerve funds, according to Biggs. 

The city is also planning to redesign the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Earlier, officials said they would hold off on a redesign to look at building records.

“I don’t understand $3 million dollars (for the Civic Center),” Evanston resident Mary Rosinski said. “There’s a lot of things that seem like if you had another source of money, (would be good) … but I think that’s really what we need to look at with our city.”

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Twitter: @avanidkalra

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