By Bob Seidenberg
Evanston animal shelter advocates, after more than three-years’ of efforts to replace the city’s cramped animal shelter with a new facility, were rewarded with success Monday night with Council members approving a $6.85 million contract with a construction firm to move forward on the project.
About $3.8 million of the total project cost will come from city funds.
Council members voted 8-1 to enter into the contract with CCC Holdings, Inc. to replace the current shelter at 2318 Oakton St.
The Council action came three years to the day that the city and members of the Evanston Animal Shelter Association (EASA), the largely volunteer group that operates the shelter for the city, received word of a $2 million Cook County Animal Shelter grant, setting the project in motion, said Vicky Pasenko, EASA’s executive director.
“We’ve been holding our breath, just waiting for this to happen — and not sure it would,” she said, surrounded by other elated EASA members outside Council chambers after the vote.
“We need a groundbreaking now. Let’s go!” she said.
The group had raised more than a $1 million for a new building.
That contribution will be combined with a $2.175 million from the city’s Capital Improvement Fund raised through the issuance of General Obligation Bonds, $2 million from a Cook County Animal Shelter Grant Program, and another $1.55 million from the city’s General Fund.
At the meeting, animal shelter supporters packed Council chambers in one of the largest resident turnouts since Covid, breaking into applause with the Council’s vote.
During public comment portion of the meeting, most of the 45 speakers spoke in support of the city’s moving forward on the issue.
In support of approval, Brittany Kirk, the president of EASA and a founding member of the board, noted that EASA offers “programs that provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of value to the city of Evanston — not just by caring for animals, but also by supporting families in Evanston, so that they can provide for their pets, so that means so much to them.”
“Without a new shelter,” she said, “those programs are not going to continue, and it’s the most vulnerable residents of Evanston who are going to suffer. Tonight, after a more than a three-year process and competitive bidding … The Council has the opportunity to approve a new building with nearly half the costs coming through a grant from Cook County and private fundraising.”
One of the other speakers, Dr. Gail Henry, owner of the Evanston Animal Hospital, 516 Dempster St., told Council members that she has been in the shelter’s current facilities on a number of occasions, “and can tell you first hand that the current building is not sustainable — and that’s coming from a health standpoint for the pets that are in their care. It likely is creating a lot of stress and can be detrimental to their [pets’] health.”
Shelter’s high cost a concern
A handful of speakers on the other side, though, called on the city to hold off on acting on the proposal, citing the new shelter’s projected cost.
“It’s unfortunate so many people are speaking as if the world is against the animal shelter, because we’re not against the animal shelter,” said Michael Vasilko, an architect and longtime city budget observer. “I mean, you could build a much larger shelter if you built a design that was compatible with the overall average for building shelters,” he told Council members.
“We’re at $800 to $1,000 a square foot, where the average cost is between $400 and $500, maybe $600 at the very highest.”
Evanston Animal Shelter Association volunteers as well as staff have long raised concerns about the cramped conditions at the current animal shelter facility, including no intake area for animals being dropped off, minimal adoption facilities, and no space for in-house medical procedures.
Constructed in 1973, the 2,800 square-foot animal shelter was originally intended to house a small number of animals for a short time, Shane Cary, the city’s Architect/Project Manager, noted in a memo, reviewing some of the issue’s history.
“Euthanasia was utilized to manage the number of animals that were in residence. Because of the age of the building, it was not designed with modern shelter standards in mind.
“In 2017, staff raised concerns about the deficiencies of the existing shelter building and its inability to support current operations.”
“One key concern is the age and deteriorated condition of the HVAC system,” Cary wrote. “The replacement of the HVAC system, which is sorely needed, cannot be completed without a substantial expansion to the shelter building. Doing so would trigger the requirement to update the building to meet current building codes, which is not feasible with the existing building.”
Cary told Council members that some of the high cost of the project is due to inflation within the construction industry, “which has been extreme over the past year and a half,” he wrote.
He told Council members that costs associated with the city’s Climate Action Resilience Plan and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards also may also have contributed to Evanston’s project coming in higher.
At the same time, he told Council members, referring to a comparison chart displayed at the meeting, “you can see that when you remove those items, and you compare it to the others, they [costs] were actually close. We’re a little bit higher, yes. But we’re pretty close to the other costs,” he maintained.
In discussion, Council member Devon Reid, in whose Eighth Ward the shelter is located, noted that without the LEED certification and soil remediation, the cost of the project would be in line with other communities.
Still, he said, “It’s very clear that the sentiment in the community is we need to make this investment [in those areas]. It’s a value statement.”
Robert Crown redux?
Council member Clare Kelly 1st, Ward, the lone Council member to vote against the funding, questioned the issue’s being designated as a special order of business, forgoing a committee hearing of an issue that would take place under the regular process.
“I don’t like, as I don’t think anybody likes, making number son the fly like this,” she said of the project, estimated to have $8 million total cost.
“We never voted on the scope of the project,” she maintained. “This is feeling a little like a Robert Crown redux, frankly,” she said the community center project which, according to some estimates, came in more than $20 million beyond the original estimates.
“I think I’m with everybody about supporting the animal shelter,” she said. “I just don’t think that financial accountability, responsibility and a new animal shelter — these are not mutually exclusive.”
Council member Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward, appointed to fill her seat until a special election next month, spoke of the outpouring of support for the project as an influence.
She noted, “One of the things that we hear residents say is that we need to listen to the voices of the residents. And I just took a tally, because, as my counterparts have mentioned, we have received over 100 emails about puppies, kittens — even roosters,” she said, about the determined campaign supporters had waged for a new shelter.