Jane Grover: Navigate, don't tiptoe, around the Civic Center

I hope that economic realities and community planning lead us to the conclusion that the Civic Center should stay where it is, but we can't be afraid to ask the hard questions that get us there.  Short-sighted thinking dictates preservation of the Civic Center in the former Marywood Academy at all costs and without questioning the long-term repercussions for Evanston's finances and implications for this community's aspirations as a sustainable community. 

While the Civic Center stands as a prime example of adaptive reuse (Catholic girls school converted to seat of government), and the greenest building is an existing building, we can't be afraid to consider whether it makes sense to continue that adaptive reuse.   The Marywood Academy structure is certainly worthy of preservation, but we should not end the inquiry there.  Responsible and accountable governance requires us to ask these hard questions and reconsider our assumptions and biases.   
The current reality is that the City can afford neither wholesale renovation of the Civic Center or a new building and that our treatment of the Civic Center resembles triage.  But we can continue to collect information, inform residents, and determine what steps we can take now that get us where we want to be in fifty years.  We should be willing investigate the more complicated determination of what will best serve this community for the long term.   
If we’re talking about the Civic Center, let’s include consideration of the future technological requirements for the City, increasing energy costs, altered traffic and parking patterns, and changes in the way we use our civic center as we are able to transact more City business online.  Let's ask whether we could realize economies of scale by combining scattered City functions in one building.  Let's consider ways in which City government can benefit from sharing space with Evanston nonprofits and business entities as a way to realize synergies and generate much-needed revenue.  This should be part of our candid and responsible deliberation about the best place to house Evanston's government, and our City Council needs people who are willing to promote that discussion. 
To say it again:  I hope that together we'll conclude that the Civic Center should stay where it is, but we can't be afraid to ask the hard questions that get us there. 
Jane Grover


Dear Jane,

I appreciate your desire to save the Civic Center (CC) building, but find your suggestion that the issue of whether to keep city government there or not needs more study is not recognizing the reality of the situation and shows a lack of understanding of the issues.

First off, we have wasted countless hours for the past 10 years on this issue and ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees trying to answer this question. The bottom line is that any alternative is too expensive and the most cost effective solution is to stay in the building.

The location has all sorts of positive aspects - it is 2 blocks from an L stop, a bus pulls up in front, there is ample free parking, and by keeping the CC where it is, we are not crowding other areas or increasing traffic in dense locations.

The building can be adopted for any use we need because the walls are not structural. If we deemed it efficient to have wide open floor full of cubicles, we could do it. That is not to say that we can't improve the layout, but we don't need to look elsewhere to achieve efficiency.

As for energy - this is a building with 2 foot thick walls and new windows. With the park in back, we could go geothermal if we wanted. I would not suggest that this will become a LEEDS certified gold building, but a lot can be done.

As for consolidation, this is a 100,000+ sq ft building that could accommodate the Township (were we are paying out rent money), and other government offices.

I am glad you support the CC as a building, but lets focus our energies on other city issues that do need study and focus.

John B. Kennedy
Past Chairman of the Friends of the Civic Center.

Dear John:
As you suggest with your letter, this community should continue the conversation about the Civic Center, acknowledge that the issue is, for this election, not on the front burner, and draw upon the expertise of people such as yourself to enrich that conversation.   
Jane Grover

Have you been to any meeting on the Civic Center?  Have you reviewed the numerous reports that have been maded at hundereds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer expense?
I hope you are no planning to waste more of the taxpayers time and money on a "Program" to educate Jane!  That is to create more reports and hire more consultants!
In the last election your friend Liz was supporting moving from the Civic Center - Since in my "professional opinion" - it was a waste of money.  Renovation is the best course. Now she has changed her mind?
When the city council comes out with an operating plan for the city, that is a bigger problem.  That is down size the mess, then we can talk renovation. The current plans are nonsense since the city does not need all the space.
Also Jane you better face some reality "Let's consider ways in which City government can benefit from sharing space with Evanston nonprofits and business entities as a way to realize synergies and generate much-needed revenue." 
Why should we rent space to not for profits in the Civic Center - no doubt if you are elected you will give your friends a break on the rent. 
Jane you are not qualified to ask the "hard" questions - about anything related to a construction or a renovation project - Jane the first hard question you better ask youre self is how I am going to down size city government - I suggest the first place you start is with the mental health board, since you have some expertise in that area!