Sobering capital costs as city identifies ‘problem facilities’ and aging playgrounds


The city owns and maintains about 60 buildings, including the country houses in the park.

While all have the usual issues that arise as buildings age, six of the city’s buildings are “problem facilities” with major issues that need to be addressed, a city official said in a chat. on the city’s capital improvement program on September 19.

Lara Biggs, chief of the city’s capital planning and engineering office, told the meeting that the six “were on the verge of having multiple building systems fail…with their HVAC ( heating, ventilation and air conditioning), electricity and potentially other things, at the very end of their life.

“And the staff don’t realistically expect them to be running in five years without major investment,” she said.

Problematic installations

Reviewing his list, Biggs said the Evanston Animal Shelter, 2310 Oakton St., “apart from being entirely too small for its present use”, also has an HVAC system, “maintained with Scotch”.

The town of Evanston hopes to expand its animal shelter at 2310 Oakton St.

She continued: “Last year they [the volunteers  who run  the shelter] the compressor has shut down. I think they went to eBay and found a compressor part that would replace it, because legally we can’t replace the HVAC system… [without bringing] the building up to code, and there is no way to bring the existing building up to code. It does not meet the ADA (American Disabilities Act) or many other issues. »

The shelter received a $2 million grant from the Cook County Animal Shelter Grant Program, and the Evanston Animal Shelter Association, the large volunteer organization that oversees it day-to-day, is raising money. additional funds for a new facility.

The city is also supposed to inject money to replace the cramped facility. Officials have earmarked $2.36 million for construction in the proposed 2023 capital improvement program budget. The cost of a new facility ranges between $5 million and $10 million.

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center

The Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., which houses the city’s offices, has been under discussion since the 1990s.

In 2009, the Evanston Civic Center was renamed the Lorraine Morton Civic Center in honor of Evanston’s first black mayor. (Photograph, Wikimedia Commons, 2010.)

Biggs told council members, “Essentially we’re getting to the point where we have to decide whether we’re going to stay there and whether we need to renovate, or whether we’re going to build a new facility.”

The city has an ongoing study into the matter, “which we’ll talk about in a month or two,” she told council members.

But, she says, “from the moment we decide, it’s going to take three to five years for us to be in a new building or a repair. [this] building,” she said. “It’s a big project, so it’s going to take some time to pull itself together.”

Officials plan to spend $4.9 million in the 2023 CIP budget for exterior brick repointing and window replacements at 2100 Ridge Ave. Staff also recommend setting aside $1.3 million in 2023 for consulting services to explore a move.

Biggs said seeping water caused part of the exterior to fail in a section of the building. “And, as we look at the windows and look at the brickwork, there are lots of places where water can get in,” she said, pointing out needed repairs.

Evanston Ecology Center and three others

Evanston Ecology Center (submitted photo)

Problems at the Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd., were “on the radar,” Biggs told council members when the city took on a small project to upgrade bathrooms. During the process, staff discovered a problem with moisture entering the building’s subfloor system.

There is now nearly $1.5 million in the budget for building renovations.

The other three problems are:

  • The Municipal Services Center, 2020 Asbury Ave., where officials have estimated up to $30 million in renovations are needed;
  • The Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., where officials project costs of more than $6 million between 2024 and 2027, including $3 million for the building’s HVAC and heating system.
  • Police and Fire Headquarters, at Elmwood Avenue and Lake Street, where officials are setting aside nearly $6 million over the same period, including $1.75 million for area renovations waiting area and offices in the building.

Biggs observed, “These three buildings, which represent 10% of our building population, absorb 80% of the general bond obligation expected for facilities next year.” She also recommended: “As a city, [we] start making plans for what we want to do with our housing stock over the long term. »

The city relies on a number of funding sources to pay for major capital projects, including tax increase funding district funds (limited to specific TIF limits), Illinois Environment (for water and sewer projects only), most recently US Federal Recovery Plan Act funds (for replacement of parking garages, water mains and lead pipes) and general bonds, where the cost of a project can be paid off over time with additional interest.

In a note, Briggs wrote:

“As projects are identified, the source of funding is determined. The funds provided by the city have annual limits and the needs far exceed the funding available. For this reason, staff actively seek grants and leverage available municipal resources to complete larger projects at lower cost.

“External grants and loans are mainly available to fund street, transportation, water and sewer projects. Rarely, a grant is awarded for park projects. Facility projects rarely receive grants and generally must be financed solely with municipal funds. Facilities projects are also ineligible for most City funding sources and are generally funded entirely by general bonds.

“The long-term consequences of relying primarily on issued debt to fund parks and facilities is that these types of projects have been significantly underfunded over the past 20 years.”

Typically, staff and Board members have had discussions about the PIC after the release of the 2023 budget, which this year is scheduled for early October.

Biggs said officials recognized “that this year it’s probably time to have a more detailed conversation.”

Mayor Daniel Biss, who chaired the meeting, said he agreed wholeheartedly on that last point, the need for more conversation. Devon Reid, Council Member, 8th District, described Biggs’ report as “very disturbing.”

In addition, there are the playgrounds

Earlier in the meeting and in a memo, Biggs and Stefanie Levine, the city’s senior project manager for parks and facilities, identified an equally daunting funding challenge, upgrading parks and amenities. from the city.

“Playgrounds have a lifespan of 15 years, and we have 12 playgrounds that are over 25 years old,” Biggs said. According to the list provided, 25 playgrounds are between 15 and 25 years old.

(Predicted life is from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.)

Many older playgrounds, especially wooden structures, also have failing equipment, Biggs said. She said a number of them are also on the city’s schedule for upgrades over the next three years.

In the meantime, the city maintenance staff “are doing what they can, but there’s really no other way to deal with this than to remove the equipment and wait for us to plan more money to replace it,” she said.

According to the staff memo, the city is expected to spend $4.6 million to repair individual equipment, such as courts, sports field lighting and playgrounds.

“But actually it doesn’t do all the other miscellaneous things,” she said. “Really, the answer is more like $7 million a year that has to be spent on parks if you’re going to maintain the operations that we currently have in parks – and that’s a big deal and something the city council should take into account.”

“It’s a bit of one or the other,” she told council members. Because if there’s no money, “we’re just going to start not sustaining operations by being forced to remove equipment from playgrounds.”

She said that was the situation in Fitzsimmons Park, near Nichols School at 801-849 Lee St., where “we come in, like, every six months and pull out another piece of equipment. … But those are like the choices the staff have to make,” she told council members.

If it’s not possible to spend $7 million, then “we need to have better criteria,” she suggested to council members, “in how we choose to prioritize park repairs.” .