Historic West Chicago schoolhouse makes statewide endangered list

Updated 4/1/2014 7:16 PM
  • McAuley Schoolhouse in West Chicago has been named one the state's 10 most endangered historic places by the group Landmarks Illinois.

    McAuley Schoolhouse in West Chicago has been named one the state's 10 most endangered historic places by the group Landmarks Illinois. Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois

A vacant schoolhouse in West Chicago that was the last functioning one-room school in Illinois until its closing more than two decades ago has been named one of the state's 10 most endangered historic places by a preservationist group.

Landmarks Illinois officials say the McAuley Schoolhouse at 1820 W. Roosevelt Road is a "little gem of a building" that could have a new use.

Bonnie McDonald, the group's president, said the 100-year-old structure, maintained by West Chicago Elementary District 33, was put on this year's list to start "a much-needed dialogue" about creating a rehabilitation and reuse plan.

"The McAuley Schoolhouse is a beloved property, but it's also incredibly significant," McDonald said. "Our goal is to ensure the community is aware that they have this significant resource."

Sue Stibal, District 33 school board member, said she's pleased the building made the list.

"We're excited that they are bringing it to the public for some awareness," Stibal said. "We have not been able to dedicate any resources to it, but we are totally willing to partner with somebody if they want to find a compatible use or are interested in moving it."

At one time, there was a small school district called McAuley Elementary District 27 that had one building: McAuley School.

District 33 eventually absorbed District 27 and assumed ownership of the simple frame, one-story structure.

Shortly after McAuley closed, District 27 and 33 officials reached an agreement in 1992 spelling out the building's future.

That agreement requires District 33 to preserve the site as a historic place and maintain the building for community and educational resources.

About 12 years ago, a group campaigned to have the building moved and converted into a living history museum. But the push lost momentum after no one could agree on a location.

It's also unclear whether the agreement between District 27 and 33 would allow for the building to be moved.

Now the schoolhouse is in a state of disrepair, and District 33 has no plans to use it for anything other than storage space.

"It has not been maintained to the level that we wished because of budget cuts and the state not paying us," Stibal said.

Landmarks Illinois insists that the building's simplicity and sturdiness makes it "an excellent reuse candidate." The group says the level of community interest in saving the structure is high.

"Local residents have discussed with us relocating the school to closer into the central area of West Chicago so that it could be reused for some other purpose," McDonald said.

Landmarks Illinois started releasing its annual list of endangered sites in 1995. Since that time, a third of the listed properties have been saved, according to the group. Meanwhile, less than a quarter of the sites been demolished, and the remainder are in varying stages between being continually threatened and rehabilitation.

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