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updated: 8/21/2013 11:21 PM

Architect: Mckee House needs fixes before it's habitable

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  • The structure of the McKee House in the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn is in overall good condition, an architect said Wednesday. Preservationists have been trying to save the 78-year-old building from the wrecking ball.

       The structure of the McKee House in the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn is in overall good condition, an architect said Wednesday. Preservationists have been trying to save the 78-year-old building from the wrecking ball.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer


The structure of a historic building located in the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve on the Lombard-Glen Ellyn border is in overall good condition, a district-hired architect said Wednesday.

But the fate of the 78-year-old McKee House -- which has been threatened before with the wrecking ball -- is still unknown.

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The building is owned by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District and the board agreed last month to fund a $43,000 architectural study to determine if the two-story limestone building could be saved and the potential costs of doing so.

Architects from Chicago-based AltusWorks, a design firm specializing in adaptations, expansions and restorations of existing and historic buildings, presented their initial findings Wednesday night during a community meeting at the Lake Ellyn Boathouse in Glen Ellyn.

"Overall the bones of the house are in good condition," said Mara Braspenninx, the project architect. "That doesn't mean it's move-in ready. There is going to need to be some work to make it habitable."

The colonial revival style house and a neighboring administration building were constructed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The house was first used by Robert McKee, the district's first superintendent, and later by other superintendents and executive directors until 1996, when it became a guard house. It has been vacant since 2002.

The study is not evaluating the neighboring administration building, which was also built in 1936 and used as the forest preserve district's headquarters until 1982.

Braspenninx said though the house itself is in good condition, there are several areas in need of fixes: the basement and a second-floor bedroom contain mold because those areas have had a lack of ventilation; mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are no longer in working operation; and the entry foyer is the "worst of the rooms" with peeling paint and plaster.

As part of the ongoing study, architects on Wednesday asked residents for their suggestions for potential reuses for the building. Most who participated in an informal survey favored either a museum or educational use, whether for K-12 or adults.

Lee Marks, chairman of the Glen Ellyn Historic Preservation Commission, brought up several possible uses he and others have suggested: learning centers for Elmhurst College and the Morton Arboretum; a social gathering site for showers, anniversary parties and weddings; or shared history uses with the nearby Stacey's Tavern Museum that would help St. Charles Road become a "history corridor."

"It's just insane to consider losing this building," Marks said. "It wouldn't make any sense at all."

Braspenninx said the house has some historic character, and officials from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency have said it has the potential for being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building is located within the village limits of Lombard in a conservation recreation zoning district, so variances would be required were the site to be converted to a business or residential use.

Braspenninx said she will look at all of the residents' suggestions, then consult with the forest preserve district to pick one option as a test case in evaluating the house's potential restoration and modification costs.

A draft of the study is expected to be complete in five to six weeks.

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