West Chicago City Council members this week learned the city needs to sell a historic house to a nonprofit group before a planned restoration of the building can begin.
The council last month agreed to give the West Chicago Community Center the chance to restore the 144-year-old Wiant House at 151 W. Washington St. The brick building, which is owned by the city, was facing possible demolition until the group got involved.
But work hasn't started because of a proposed agreement that would have made the community center a subcontractor for the city.
"The problem is that the community center isn't a contractor," said David Sabathne, the nonprofit organization's president. So the group couldn't meet various insurance and other requirements that protect the city from liability issues.
Originally, the city wasn't going to sell the house to the community center until after the group resolved a list of exterior building code violations.
Now the city council is expected to vote as soon as Monday on an agreement that would immediately sell the house to the community center for $10.
"We will be owner of the property," Sabathne said. "So that shifts all the liability to us."
In addition, the proposed deal would change the deadline the organization was given by the city to finish repairs. The required completion date would be pushed back by three months to July 31.
John Said, director of community development, said the extra time is needed because some of the work requires warmer weather. "We may not see that for a while," he said.
This week, the city council's development committee reviewed the proposed agreement and appeared to have no problems with it.
Once the deal is approved, Sabathne said, work will begin "as soon as possible" on an estimated $350,000 to $400,000 in repairs and improvements to the house. The group already has the cash to pay for all the work.
Preservationists pushed for the house to be saved, in part, because it has ties to two prominent West Chicago families.
Local businessman Joel Wiant had the home built around 1869. His family owned the house until it was purchased in the early 1900s by John W. Leedle, West Chicago's first city attorney.
By the time a bank foreclosed on the property in July 2011, the house had fallen into disrepair. The city spent $260,000 to buy the property from the bank in November 2011.
Sabathne says his group plans to return the house to a useful purpose with office and commercial space on the first floor and a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. The group eventually would like to sell the building.
Delaying the start of the restoration could end up being something positive because the group was able to refine its plan, Sabathne said.
"Rather than go quickly to a product that was acceptable," Sabathne said, "we may very well end up with a better, more historically accurate product."