The clock is ticking on efforts to restore the historic McKee House now that Glen Ellyn has inked a deal to lease it and other buildings at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve.
DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners on Tuesday approved an agreement that allows Glen Ellyn to lease two fleet maintenance buildings at Churchill Woods for 50 years. The $1-a-year lease also includes the McKee House, an 81-year-old limestone building considered one of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.
The unanimous vote came two weeks after Glen Ellyn trustees approved the deal.
Glen Ellyn plans to use one maintenance building to store salt and the other for general storage. The forest preserve district plans to move its fleet operations into a new facility near Warrenville by fall 2018.
Meanwhile, Glen Ellyn will facilitate efforts to restore the McKee House and a neighboring administration building. Both district-owned structures along St. Charles Road were built in 1936.
As part of the lease agreement, a private group has until Oct. 1, 2019, to raise $400,000 for a restoration project. The group has until Oct. 1, 2022, to complete the improvements and get an occupancy permit.
If either deadline isn't met, the village would demolish the McKee buildings.
Forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan said he supported the lease agreement because preservationists can now pursue an "adaptive reuse" of the McKee House. Some have suggested a restored McKee House could host small private events and summer nature camps with classrooms or labs at the site.
"This is an opportunity," said Whelan, whose district includes the building. "And I think it's a great opportunity."
"We've got a little more than two years to do this," said Linda Gilbert of the McKee Preservation Group, a nonprofit that will spearhead the fundraising effort. "So it's scary, but it's doable."
Gilbert said McKee House supporters met Tuesday to discuss their next move. She said she was encouraged because the meeting included residents from Glen Ellyn, Lombard and Wheaton.
"I think there's a strong will in that part of DuPage County to see the McKee House preserved," she said.
Initially used by Robert McKee, the forest preserve district's first superintendent, the building later became a guard house. It's been vacant since 2002 and has fallen into disrepair.
Despite the damage, a 2013 architectural study found the building to be structurally sound.
Needed repairs would cost roughly $461,000, according to the most recent evaluation. Work to bring the house into code compliance for life safety and occupancy is estimated to cost an additional $1 million to $1.5 million.