Once a perennial target for the nearest wrecking ball, the fate of the historic McKee House at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn finally may be determined this summer.
DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners on Tuesday unanimously gave temporary approval to redirect funds that once were dedicated to the home's demolition to study the viability of renovating the house and the costs associated with doing so.
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The board is expected on July 2 to formally approve a roughly $43,000 contract with Chicago-based AltusWorks to do the work. The architectural design firm, specializing in adaptations, expansions and restorations of existing and historic buildings, also has proposed an additional $6,900 market analysis to help determine appropriate uses or functions for the house.
The market study was cut from the original proposal to save costs but some commissioners, including Tim Whelan, said they believe the findings could be beneficial.
Commissioners directed the firm to "sharpen its pencil" to reduce those proposed costs before the next meeting.
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.
Several Glen Ellyn residents involved in the village's historic preservation have pleaded with the board to save the house since as early as 2006. Some of them spoke again Tuesday, asking commissioners to commit, once and for all, to preserving the structure.
Lee Marks, chairman of the Glen Ellyn Historic Preservation Commission, said he supports an "adaptive reuse plan" for the property.
"It could serve as an off-site science lab for (Morton) Arboretum, an educational resource for school kids," Marks said. "They could host local celebrations, anniversaries and showers."
Linda Gilbert, past president of Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation, said the district and community have an obligation to save the house since it is fully paid for and dedicated to the residents of DuPage County. The group has raised $15,000 that is earmarked for roof repairs to the building.
"We have been coming before this board since 2006 when we were first alerted to the potential demolition of this building. We represent hundreds of people but we're also part of a broader group, called the McKee House Coalition," Gilbert said. "It is time we've heard from the forest preserve that there is a commitment to do something because we can't go further. We can't raise more money and we can't bring more people onboard until we have a commitment this is going to happen."
Forest preserve President D. Dewey Pierotti stressed that approving the study was in no way a commitment to rehabilitating the house, but rather a starting point to show the community exactly how much money and work would need to be done to make it viable for public use.
"I'm sensitive to the request but it is not only in best interest of the forest preserve but also the best interest of this group to let them know what they're getting into," he said. "We're giving this organization a set of guidelines so they know this is what it's going to cost."
In the near future, Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said she would like the district to prepare a comprehensive plan that sets priorities and outlines the status of all 64 historic properties owned by the district.