Preservationists again working to save Glen Ellyn's McKee House

  • Preservationists face an October deadline to raise enough money to spare the 1930s-era McKee House from demolition.

    Preservationists face an October deadline to raise enough money to spare the 1930s-era McKee House from demolition. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 3/1/2019 8:17 PM

Glen Ellyn's McKee House has survived demolition threats for more than a decade, but its future once again is in limbo as preservationists try to revive fundraising efforts to spare the Depression-era building from the wrecking ball.

A nonprofit group faces an October deadline to raise $400,000 to restore the McKee House at the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve. Hampered by the loss of key members and other setbacks, a volunteer board has made little progress toward that goal, increasing the likelihood it will have to request a deadline extension from the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With a looming spring thaw, the group also must scramble to raise enough money to replace a leaking roof that could cause further damage to the limestone building -- vacant since 2002. Members previously proposed installing a historically accurate wood shingle roof but may have to plan for a less expensive alternative.

"Decisions have to be made within next couple of months," forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan said Friday.

Along with Whelan, there are now three active board members of the McKee Preservation Group. Other supporters have moved away. The group also lost a member with the January death of John Schreiber, who as a Glen Ellyn historic preservation commissioner and a contractor brought expertise restoring historic homes.

Whelan said he's working to repopulate the nonprofit's board. He declined to disclose how much the group has raised so far but said the sum is "not a whole lot."

The clock on the October deadline began ticking in May 2017 after forest preserve commissioners approved an agreement allowing Glen Ellyn to lease two fleet maintenance buildings at Churchill Woods for storage for 50 years.

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As part of the pact, the private group has until the start of October to raise $400,000 for the McKee project. The group also has until Oct. 1, 2022, to complete improvements and get an occupancy permit.

If either deadline isn't met, the village would pay to demolish the colonial revival-style building, constructed in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration to house the forest preserve district's first superintendent, Robert McKee.

Whelan said he's encouraged by the support of Glen Ellyn officials and historic preservation commissioners, who recently suggested the McKee group seek official status as a village landmark.

At the state level, McKee supporters are still pursuing a recommendation from the Illinois Historic Preservation Office for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Glen Ellyn Village President Diane McGinley said an extension request would have to demonstrate progress, so her immediate focus is helping the group "refocus and re-energize" and build momentum in the next seven months. She said the village can do more to publicly support preservation to give potential donors confidence.

At the request of the group, the forest preserve district and village trustees agreed in 2018 to revise the lease to allow the village to approve improvements without further approval from the district. The property also was annexed into the village a year earlier than planned.

A 2013 study commissioned by the forest district and completed by the Chicago-based AltusWorks architectural design firm found the building was structurally sound but estimated the costs to "stabilize" it at $230,000, according to a memo to the Glen Ellyn village board. Renovations to repurpose the McKee House for adult education or "assembly-type uses" could range from $1.4 million to $2 million, the study found.

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