After years of discussion, Evanston is pursuing a potential relocation of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, the current center of municipal government activity – but residents’ reactions have been mixed.
While some residents are concerned about the potential price of the project, others have long said that the Civic Center, which is currently located in the historic Marywood Academy building on Ridge Street, is not easily accessible by public transport. common and standards for people with disabilities. City officials also said a move could help expand the city’s green infrastructure network. With these concerns in mind, city council voted at its Oct. 25 meeting to pursue a $ 367,000 relocation feasibility project for the facility.
City engineer Lara Biggs said renovations to the current Civic Center will include major facility upgrades and could cost between $ 20 million and $ 24 million, according to a 2018 estimate of the construction project costs.
Moving the facility out of its current building, Biggs said, could be a more fiscally responsible decision.
“There are a lot of issues with the Civic Center that really don’t have to do with its current condition,” Biggs said.
As the city begins to hire local businesses to assess areas of the downtown core where civic center services could move, some residents agree that a more central location would help address current building accessibility issues, including particularly associated with its current state of disrepair.
Resident Jay Robinson said the building’s disorganized structure had a negative impact on his experience with the city government.
“The offices are a bit small and scattered, and it doesn’t seem very accessible to people with disabilities,” he said.
Moving the Civic Center downtown could also make it easier for residents to access because of its proximity to small businesses, public transportation and other municipal government facilities, resident Michael Miro said.
However, not all residents think the project is necessary or profitable. At the October 25 meeting, more than a dozen people expressed concerns about the costs associated with the relocation of the center, as proposed for inclusion in the 2022 municipal budget. budget is December 31.
Biggs said relocation plans were in the works as early as 1997. Then, in 2007, about 83% of voters opposed the Civic Center relocation in a public referendum, after which the plan was largely scrapped.
Resident John Kennedy recalled hearing about the project when it was proposed over ten years ago. There was no proper downtown infrastructure to host Civic Center operations at the time, Kennedy said, and that has not changed.
“The city spent about a quarter of a million dollars… to study the same concepts,” Kennedy said. “There was no (solution) downtown.
Now that the issue has returned to the budget, citizens who remember the 2008 referendum are still reluctant to support it.
Evanston resident Bruce Enenbach said the question is no more relevant now than it originally was.
“Nothing major has happened in the meantime to warrant another blow to this rather silly idea,” Enenbach said.
Despite past opposition to the relocation, Biggs said the feasibility project is more applicable and necessary now than in previous discussions, as it now understands the growth potential of the city’s green infrastructure network. As part of its climate and resilience action plan, Evanston will pursue the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in all municipal government buildings by 2035.
Currently, Biggs said the Civic Center uses natural gas. Switching to a cleaner energy system would result in an additional cost beyond the $ 20 to 24 million planned for the rehabilitation of the existing building. By incorporating green energy into a new building, relocation can be a simpler and more sustainable alternative to pouring municipal funds into the older, less efficient structure, she said.
Now that the city is officially pursuing the relocation feasibility project, a potential move would occur in the next 3 to 5 years, according to Biggs.
Residents said the city has yet to discuss many details in the relocation process. Despite the outcry, Miro stressed that a new building should above all reflect Evanston’s visions for the future.
“Evanston wants to be known as a leader… on environmental issues,” he said. “If you were to build a new building, you would want to build a building that reflects this commitment and these values. “
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