Even basic repairs are up in the air as city officials debate the future of the Harley Clarke Mansion.
The 86-year-old lakefront property at 2603 Sheridan Rd. needs $170,000 in safety repairs, according to city manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who presented a report to members of the human services committee Monday night. That includes upgrades to the electrical system and fire alarm system as well as plumbing and ventilation improvements.
But some aldermen said those repairs may not make sense if the city plans to sell the property or close it down temporarily while officials decide on a new use for the building. Complicating matters is the Evanston Art Center, which leases the site from the city for the nominal rate of $1 a year and has occupied the building since the 1960s.
The art center’s board is meeting this Thursday to discuss whether it should remain in the Harley Clarke Mansion, among other items, according to executive director Norah Diedrich. Until then, she said, it’s too soon to say whether the art center plans to stay.
“We’re going to go back to the table and decide what our best move is,” Diedrich told Patch.
Concerned over the increasing cost of repairs to the aging building, city officials have been talking about what to do with the Harley Clarke Mansion for nearly two years. In August 2012, the city issued a request for proposals on the mansion, and Jennifer Pritzker responded with a $1.2 million bid and plan to turn it into a boutique hotel. Faced with mounting opposition from the public, however, aldermen rejected that proposal 6-3 in July, and city officials went back to the drawing board.
Now, it’s up to the council to decide whether it’s worth spending money on the repairs, especially if the Evanston Art Center plans to leave.
City manager Wally Bobkiewicz, however, said that repairs were needed to prevent serious hazards so long as the Evanston Art Center continues to operate in the space.
“My first priority is safety,” he told members of the human services committee on Monday. “If the building is going to be occupied in its current condition, I believe the immediate improvements need to be made.”
Bobkiewicz also suggested that city officials spend up to $100,000 to hire a consultant to conduct a complete evaluation of the site and future land use study.
Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward), who voted in favor of selling the mansion to Pritzker, said she believed that $170,000 would be a drop in the bucket toward addressing serious safety issues at the mansion. Reports completed by Pritzker’s team noted lead paint and asbestos, among other serious concerns, Burrus said. She said tearing down the building or board it up would be the most financially responsible choice.
“It seems like we’re throwing money away,” she said.
City staff estimate that demolition would cost between $100,000 and $120,000, including proper disposal of any materials contaminated with lead and asbestos, according to Bobkiewicz. He said that the sale of valuable items from inside the mansion would likely offset that cost “in the low tens of thousands of dollars.”
Ald. Jane Grover (7th Ward), who voted against the sale, said she wanted to explore more options for the mansion, with community input.
“I’m not ready to bring in the wrecking ball,” she said. “Maybe it could be a better public amenity that would draw more residents here.”
Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward), who also voted against the sale, said he thought the city should help the art center relocate.
Beyond the immediate issues of repair and the location of the Evanston Art Center, the city is also planning to move forward with some sort of public input process on the future of the mansion. Bobkiewicz outlined a proposal for that process on Monday night.
First, the city should set parameters on the future uses of the mansion and then it should host a tour of the property for anyone who is interested, he said. Next, the city should hold public meetings and gather feedback online about future uses. Finally, he said, the parks and recreation board should review that information and present recommendations to the city council.
Bobkiewicz said he would present a report on the status of the Evanston Art Center to the human services committee at its next meeting.