Little Friends proceeding toward Naperville land sale, but not necessarily to North Central College

  • Leaders of the nonprofit disability services organization Little Friends in Naperville say their campus in the city's historic district, which includes the Kroehler mansion and College Park, is at the end of its useful life, with facilities that aren't up to code or handicapped-accessible and repairs needed.

      Leaders of the nonprofit disability services organization Little Friends in Naperville say their campus in the city's historic district, which includes the Kroehler mansion and College Park, is at the end of its useful life, with facilities that aren't up to code or handicapped-accessible and repairs needed. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/15/2019 7:37 PM

Officials with Little Friends and North Central College have terminated an agreement that would have led to the college buying the nonprofit's property within the Naperville historic district, officials said Monday.

Little Friends President and CEO Mike Briggs sent city council members a letter saying recent changes to the process of gaining city permission to demolish historic buildings made it no longer possible for the sale of the land at 140 S. Wright St. to go through.

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"Little Friends needs to proceed on its own to try to realize the full value of the property," said Patrick Skarr, a spokesman for Little Friends.

North Central College Assistant Vice President for External Affairs Jim Godo said Monday the college honored the nonprofit's request to terminate the agreement and respects the decision.

The college remains interested, he said, in "acquiring the property and maximizing its use," but it also supports Little Friends and its new plan to proceed toward the sale of the land.

Little Friends plans to seek a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the buildings dating from 1909 and 1945 that sit on its Wright Street campus, while also listing the land for sale under its current residential zoning, Briggs' letter said. That means consideration of a zoning change to designate the land a college and university district -- which had been delayed at the city council level since early June -- no longer is necessary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Little Friends is trying to sell its land to facilitate a move to an existing building in Warrenville, which Briggs said will provide a modern facility with 20,000 more square feet for its schools serving people with autism, other disabilities and emotional challenges.

Officials estimate the move and build-out would cost $7 million. They say it is more cost-effective to move than to pay an estimated $14 million to $16 million to renovate the Wright Street buildings to meet future needs.

"To meet our mission and serve the growing population of individuals in need of our services, we must invest in the future and our people and programs, not our legacy property," Briggs wrote.

That's why Little Friends plans to petition the city's historic preservation commission and city council for the ability to demolish the buildings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On the site are what's known as the Kroehler mansion, a 1909 Craftsman-style house lived in briefly by Naperville furniture company leader Peter Kroehler; two 1945 buildings originally built by North Central College as dorms; and a garage. History buffs have told the city council they'd like to preserve the mansion, but Little Friends officials say that's not doable unless the city or another party buys and moves it.

"We are in the business of serving children and adults with special challenges," Briggs' letter said, "not undertaking historically themed renovations."

Briggs asked in his letter for a resolution on the demolition issue by Sept. 17, but the historic preservation commission's next scheduled meeting is not until Sept. 26.

Meanwhile, Godo said, North Central College plans to follow its usual process of evaluating facility needs and expansion possibilities to try to find a new way to create a graduate program for physician assistants. The college told neighbors that was its preferred use for the Little Friends site but last week canceled a neighbor meeting that would have provided more details on the plan.

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