Both DuPage Forest Preserve Commission candidates hoping to represent the district that includes Churchill Woods Forest Preserve have different opinions about how to save a landmark structure there.
Republican Tim Whelan of Wheaton says the forest preserve district should lead the charge to restore the McKee house -- even if it means spending district money to do it.
But Whelan's opponent in the District 4 race, Robert Flesvig, said he wouldn't support spending any district cash to restore the Depression-era home at the preserve on St. Charles Road near Glen Ellyn.
"If someone comes up with the money and they want to take it over and rehab it and use it for a historical building, that would be fine," said Flesvig, a Democrat from Wheaton.
The two-story limestone house -- built for Robert McKee, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District's first superintendent -- and a second building that housed the district's first headquarters were spared from the wrecking ball in 2006 when the DuPage Housing Authority signed a lease for the property.
However, the housing authority's plan to convert the McKee house and the other structure for a veterans housing project never materialized. After letting the lease expire, the authority said it no longer had any interest in the buildings.
Now forest preserve commissioners have given local preservationists six months to come up with a plan to save the structures. Forest preserve officials estimate that repairing the buildings to operating standards would cost between $350,000 to $750,000.
Whelan, who unseated Commissioner Mike Formento in the Republican primary, argues that the house is a piece of county history that should be preserved.
"This is a historic landmark right in the middle of the county," Whelan said. "I am going to do everything in my power to preserve it."
While he agrees that seeking private contributions could be part of that process, Whelan said that a "bulk" of the money should come from the forest preserve district.
"The forest preserve is in the market of spending money to preserve all these other properties," he said. "Why aren't we preserving the McKee house?"
Flesvig said the district has already spent enough money on buildings in preserves throughout the county. He said the district's focus should be on land acquisition.
"I understand it (McKee house) is architecturally significant," he said. "But I don't want the taxpayers to pay anymore money like we do for other properties."
While he agrees land acquisition should be a priority, Whelan said he also wants to see existing facilities improved at the preserves.
Whelan said the restoration of the McKee house could be done in stages. In the meantime, he added, the district should replace the roof and remove vines to prevent the McKee house from deteriorating.
"I don't know why spending $30,000 or $38,000 to repair a roof is something we should be arguing about," he said.
Flesvig says he wouldn't even support spending that much forest preserve district cash to repair a building.
"I love history," he said. "But I think other people need to step up to the plate to take care of these buildings and put roofs on them."
District 4 includes all or parts of Addison, Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Lombard, Winfield and Wheaton.