Glen Ellyn, DuPage forest preserve nearing deal on McKee lease

Glen Ellyn trustees are expected next month to approve an agreement with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District that could save the historic McKee House from the wrecking ball for at least two years.

Trustees expressed informal support Monday for a proposed deal to lease two attached maintenance buildings at Churchill Woods at a cost of $1 annually for 50 years. The village would use one of the structures to store salt and the other for general storage.

The agreement also would give a private group two years to raise $400,000 toward the restoration of the McKee House. If fundraisers don't meet that deadline, the village would pay to demolish the 81-year-old building - recently named to a list of the state's most endangered historic places by Landmarks Illinois.

"When I saw the $400,000 goal in two years, my heart stopped momentarily," said Kathy Cornell, a Glen Ellyn Park District commissioner and advocate for local history. "What we're talking about is a major gift fundraising opportunity."

Cornell suggested a restored McKee House could host small private events and summer nature camps with classrooms or labs in a "gorgeous setting" along St. Charles Road.

Cornell, who said she's worked as a professional fundraiser for 20 years, called the restoration timeline ambitious, but "doable."

"But we would want to get started right away," Cornell told trustees. "And one of the advantages of your involvement is that we can now say to people, 'Hey we can actually save this building, and we can make it available to the residents of the community for all kinds of wonderful purposes.'"

Village President Alex Demos said officials are considering whether to allow stakeholders to organize as a group for a certain number of months and then start the clock on the two-year deadline. The village also wants an oversight group to monitor the fundraising progress, review a long-term business plan for the site and report back to trustees.

"I can see there being local, regional or even some national opportunity here for preservation," Demos said.

If the group raised $400,000 in two years and the project moved forward, the forest preserve and village each pledge to contribute $25,000. Preservationists also would get another three years to turn their plans into reality.

At the fifth year, construction would need to be complete and permitted for occupancy. Otherwise, the village would tear down the McKee House.

The building - first used by the forest preserve district's first superintendent - has sat vacant since 2002 and fallen into disrepair. A 2013 study commissioned by the forest preserve found the building was structurally sound, but estimated the costs to "stabilize" it at $230,000, a memo to the Glen Ellyn village board reads. Renovations could range from $1.3 million to $2 million, the study found.

Glen Ellyn also plans to annex the property - now within the village of Lombard - by April 2019.

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