Glen Ellyn could lease McKee House site sooner than planned

A plan to push up the starting date for Glen Ellyn to lease the McKee House and other buildings at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve could help preservationists trying to raise money to restore the historic structure.

DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners last May 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 82-year-old limestone building considered one of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.

As part of the deal, the lease wasn't supposed to begin until April 1, 2019.

But the McKee Preservation Group - a nonprofit that's working to raise money to restore the McKee House - says the 2019 date is hampering fundraising efforts.

"It's difficult for the McKee Preservation Group to raise money if the village doesn't take possession until 2019," said forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan, who also is a member of the preservation group. "Any donor looking at it is going to say, 'You can't even do anything until 2019.'"

So the forest preserve board on Tuesday is expected to approve a change that would allow Glen Ellyn to lease the buildings as soon as the forest preserve moves its fleet operations into a new facility near Warrenville later this year.

Glen Ellyn plans to use one maintenance building to store salt and the other for general storage.

Revising the lease will allow the McKee Preservation Group to make incremental repairs to the house, starting with a proposal for a new roof.

Another proposed change to the lease would allow the village to make certain improvements to the McKee House without written approval from the forest preserve district. Officials say that will simplify efforts for the village and the McKee Preservation Group to get things done.

However, the revised lease won't change the Oct. 1, 2019, deadline that the private group has been given to raise $400,000 for the 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 will demolish the McKee House.

Whelan said the group will be making repairs to the house as money is raised. All the money spent will be counted toward the $400,000 goal.

The McKee House was built in 1936 and initially used by Robert McKee, the forest preserve district's first superintendent. The building later became a guard house. It has been vacant since 2002 and has fallen into disrepair.

Despite the damage, a 2013 architectural study found the building to be structurally sound.

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