Local Sierra Club says McKee House 'should be torn down'

  • At least one group is voicing support for a proposal to demolish the McKee House in Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn.

    At least one group is voicing support for a proposal to demolish the McKee House in Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near Glen Ellyn. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 7/5/2016 6:55 PM

As preservationists prepare to oppose a DuPage County Forest Preserve District proposal to demolish the McKee House near Glen Ellyn, the local Sierra Club says the building "has run its course and should be torn down."

Connie Schmidt, chairwoman of the River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club, shared her group's view with forest preserve commissioners on Tuesday -- one week after officials postponed a discussion about the fate of the 80-year-old limestone house in Churchill Woods Forest Preserve.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club recognizes that this structure does hold interest," Schmidt said. "But the funds required to preserve it and to maintain it -- versus using those funds for the protection of flora and fauna -- help to make this decision clear."

"We encourage and recommend that you vote to demolish this structure when it is brought before you and cease this endless prolonging of a very difficult decision," she said.

District staff members are recommending demolition of the McKee House, which is a visible landmark along St. Charles Road. They made that recommendation after an architectural and engineering firm evaluated the house in terms of cultural significance and general condition.

But it's up to commissioners to decide whether they want the house razed. The building has been spared from the wrecking ball for least a decade.

Commissioner Tim Whelan, whose district includes the McKee House, says he disagrees with the River Prairie Group and is planning to meet Wednesday night with a group of residents who want the structure saved.

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"We're going to make one more effort to try to educate this board about its importance," Whelan said.

The McKee House and a neighboring administration building were built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The forest preserve used the administration building as its headquarters between 1936 and 1982.

The house initially was used by Robert McKee, the district's first superintendent, and later became a guard house. But the building has been vacant since 2002 and has fallen into disrepair.

Whelan says the McKee House should be preserved for its historical and cultural importance to the forest preserve district.

"I don't get why this has to be held out as the only building that needs to have private funding," said Whelan, adding the district has used tax dollars to preserve other structures.

Commissioners, for example, on Tuesday formally agreed to repair and maintain both the Greene Farm Barn in Greene Valley Forest Preserve near Naperville and the Ben Fuller House at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Needed repairs to the McKee House would cost roughly $461,000, according to a recent evaluation. There also would be an annual expense of $8,000 to $16,000 to operate and maintain it.

To open the house to the public, officials say, would require it be brought into code compliance for life safety and occupancy. That would cost an additional $1 million to $1.5 million.

But Whelan says the district could spend far less money to simply stabilize the house so it doesn't deteriorate more than it already has. He says the district should at least repair the roof.

"I feel the responsibility has to come from the forest preserve," he said.

Still, Schmidt said that houses don't fit with the forest preserve district's purpose of connecting people with nature.

"In the view of the River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club, this building has runs course and should be torn down," she said.

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