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posted: 3/13/2013 7:15 PM

DuPage forest preserve takes new look at old structures

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  • The DuPage County Forest Preserve District plans to compile a list of historic structures on district land, including the Baker House near West Chicago.

      The DuPage County Forest Preserve District plans to compile a list of historic structures on district land, including the Baker House near West Chicago.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer


Before making any changes to their long-standing policy on historic structures, DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners want to know how much of an investment the district already has made in preserving the past.

Commissioners directed staff to conduct an inventory of historic structures on forest preserve land. Once the list is complete, Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said she would like the district to hire an architectural firm to do "a broad-stroke assessment" of all the structures.

Wehrli said the architects would be asked to determine the condition of each structure, estimate potential costs for stabilization or restoration and suggest possible uses.

"Having a wide district approach to what has been more surgically done over the years would help us put our historic structures into context of our budget, into context of what the partnership opportunities might be," Wehrli said. "But I think we do need professional help with that."

Wehrli's request, which she made during a Tuesday night planning session, came after the district recently approved funding for a proposed architectural study of the McKee House at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn.

The two-story limestone house and a neighboring administration building were built in 1936. The district used the administration building as its headquarters between 1936 and 1982. A string of superintendents and executive directors lived in McKee House until 1996, when it became a guard house. The house has been vacant since 2002.

While the goal of the McKee House study would be to determine if the building can be saved, Wehrli said a broader review could help commissioners revise the district's policy for developing, preserving and operating historic structures. That policy dates to 1986.

"The policy will have to change because it's very old," Wehrli said.

Officials have said a revised policy could list what criteria must be met before a structure is deemed worthy of preservation. The issue of how to pay for preservation projects also could be addressed.

Andrea Hoyt, the district's director of planning, said one benefit of the proposed architectural review is that it could determine operational and maintenance costs for the structures.

"Maybe that would help us to see what we're dealing with in terms of taking on new buildings, restoring buildings, or their big-picture costs to the district relative to programming," Hoyt said.

When it comes to finding a new use for each structure, Wehrli said officials shouldn't limit themselves. She said the inside of the some buildings could be modernized to expand the district's available space for programs.

"We don't want to be constrained to think that just because it's a historic house, we only want to put people spinning yarn in it," she said. "We want to perhaps adapt it."

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