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