DuPage County Forest Preserve officials are acknowledging the district can't live in the past when it comes to maintaining historic buildings.
Forest preserve commissioners are looking to replace the district's historic structures policy, which dates to 1986, with a new set of guidelines that would apply to all cultural resources, including prehistoric and historic archaeological sites. A board vote is expected next month.
If approved, the new policy would more clearly outline the district's role in managing its historical and cultural resources.
"Now the public will have a guideline," Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli said. "The board will have a guideline. The staff will have a guideline to help evaluate priorities, value and (whether a project is doable)."
The current policy simply says the district will support the historic structures it owns.
So while the district has partnered with not-for-profit groups to breathe new life into structures such as Graue Mill in Oak Brook and Danada House in Wheaton, that hasn't been the case for all its buildings.
The most recent example of a district-owned structure that's fallen into disrepair is the McKee House at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn.
"Some of the decisions in the past have been to do nothing," Wehrli said. "That's like buying a dog and saying you're going to feed him in December. These buildings deteriorate."
As part of the proposed policy, the district would be required to evaluate all its buildings that are at least 50 years old. Factors considered during the evaluation process include historic significance, condition, long-term maintenance cost, operational functionality and community benefit.
"Each cultural resource will receive points for all categories resulting in a priority list guiding the allocation of limited resources," said Janneke Fowers, the site manager for Mayslake who served on the district's historical and cultural resources policy committee.
The proposed policy also identifies different options for existing structures, including preservation, rehabilitation and restoration.
A structure could be demolished if its historical significance is limited or if it's not economically or practically feasible to save it. Documentation about the structure, including photographs, would be kept "for future reference, research or interpretive display."
To avoid demolishing a building, the district would try to partner with community groups willing to help maintain the structure.
In addition to historic buildings and archaeological sites, the proposed policy will include guidelines for the cultural artifacts conserved and managed within the district's collections. Right now, the district has a separate collection policy.