Police/Fire Headquarters rates as city’s top need: Alderperson Suffredin

Thomas Suffredin/Ward 6 Newsletter:

There are several real estate items on the agenda for tonight’s meeting:

For whatever reason, the City of Evanston has historically done a poor job of owning and maintaining property. Whether it is due to poor management, a lack of planning and foresight, or a lack of political will to do boring but necessary municipal things, or some combination of the three, the reality is that it has coalesced into a massive issue that should be the City Council’s top priority.

Police/Fire Headquarters is the most urgent need. Unlike general office space, a suitable building cannot be rented and public safety is a 24/7 operation. Harley Clarke is a lower priority, but there has a lot of community passion about that property in the past. The responses to the request for expressions of interest demonstrate that there may be a financially self-supporting way forward. If it turns out that there is not, we need to be realistic looking forward. That property, in its current state, serves no programmatic purpose and presents potential liability for the city.

The sale of the 504 South Boulevard property is pretty straightforward. It will facilitate a previously approved plan for a sixty-unit, mixed-income housing development and twenty publicly available surface parking spaces.

The lease at 909 Davis is a little more complicated. There needs to be a significant community engagement process in order to determine what the best path forward is for a permanent civic center. The 2007 referendum is not current, but should not be completely disregarded. The reality is that the building is over a hundred years old, was not designed for the purpose it now serves, and has a significant amount of deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed. I am for whatever provides the best taxpayer value, allows for expansion and contraction as office space and public functions demand, and can be a functional long-term solution. That may very well be renovation of the current building, but attempting to make that assessment along with the patchwork repairs required to keep the building functioning does not seem to be the best approach.

The final real estate item on the agenda tonight is something on which I will be voting no. The City is seeking to purchase the building that most recently housed Little Beans on Asbury for $2,600,000. There will be another $250,000 in expected expenses. Given all the real estate and maintenance issues facing the City, I cannot justify that expenditure, no matter how noble the intended use may be. Dipping into reserve funds to pay for a building, crowding out a potential tax-generating use and opening the door to further maintenance liability does not make sense to me.

Bent Park Fieldhouse Update

Closer to home, here is a Bent Park Fieldhouse update from Chief City Engineer, Lara Biggs:

Staff is working to renovate the existing building rather than replacing it.  Exterior repair and renovation work will include a new roof, masonry repairs, and new doors. Interior improvements will include ADA and finish renovations to all interior spaces including the main hall and restrooms.  The building will also be aligned to the City’s Climate Action Resilience Plan by removing the natural gas connection and improving the HVAC to be all-electric in operation.

Construction documents for the improvements are currently being developed. Staff is targeting bidding for the project in the spring of 2024 with construction occurring in the summer and fall of 2024.

Spring Street Cleaning

While we’re still six weeks or so away from spring street cleaning, I encourage you to sign up for text alerts. I would love it if we could avoid tickets come March. They are expensive and avoidable.

Fire Department Training Exercises

The Evanston Fire Department plans to conduct ice rescue drills using the Lovelace Park pond during the approximate hours of 9 a.m. and noon on Saturdays, Jan. 20, 27, and Feb. 3.

During these scheduled times, community members will see several fire apparatus and firefighters practicing surface ice rescue skills, culminating in a controlled, simulated rescue scenario. This scenario is designed to practice combining resources to rescue an individual who has broken through weak ice, is losing consciousness, and needs immediate advanced life support care.

*The views expressed are those of Councilmember Suffredin and not those of the City of Evanston.

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