GLEN ELLYN – There is a new effort to preserve the 81-year-old McKee House as part of a proposed lease agreement between the village of Glen Ellyn and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which owns the limestone building.
The building is located on the Glen Ellyn-Lombard border in Churchill Woods and has been vacant since 2002. Forest Preserve District staff members have recommended the building be razed because of the high cost to repair it.
Glen Ellyn village trustees are set to discuss the proposed agreement during a April 17 workshop meeting. Glen Ellyn village officials have expressed an interest in leasing the McKee House property and the maintenance building property at Churchill Woods. The nonprofit group Landmarks Illinois on April 6 announced the inclusion of the McKee House on its 2017 list of the most endangered historic places in Illinois.
"I just think that it's great that it is on that list to try to raise the public awareness," said Forest Preserve District commissioner Tim Whelan, who has been trying to build support – and funds – for preserving the McKee House together with the McKee Preservation Group. "We've got to pay attention to it and do something about it."
As part of the proposed lease agreement, the village would start leasing the McKee House on April 1, 2019, for a 50-year term. The lease for the maintenance building would start when the district vacates the building.
The village would pay the district $1 per year for leasing the buildings. As proposed, the village would be responsible for all restoration, maintenance repairs and improvements to the buildings. The agreement would allow the village to sublease the buildings to the Glen Ellyn Park District, College of DuPage and Glen Ellyn Historical Society.
According to the agreement, if fundraising efforts for the McKee House generate $400,000 by April 1, 2019, the village would agree to pay $25,000 to help in the restoration efforts. However, if the funds are not raised by that date and the house is not occupied by April 1, 2022, the building would be demolished and the property restored to its natural state at the village's expense.
The Forest Preserve District also would pay $25,000 to help in the restoration efforts if sufficient funds are raised, the agreement states.
McKee Preservation Group board member Linda Gilbert said the group is looking at the proposed lease agreement with "great interest."
"Our primary mission is to save the buildings and see that they are carefully restored and put to public use," Gilbert said in an email. "If Glen Ellyn is interested in taking an active part in that, we would be thrilled."
She did express some concerns about the agreement, however.
"If the time limit to raise funds is not met, demolishing those three beautiful historic structures would be the terrible result – and a very expensive one for the village, since to destroy the main building alone it was estimated back in 2006 by the Forest Preserve to be $80,000," Gilbert said. "The final problem is that these buildings are owned by all residents of the county and it sounds like use would be specifically for Glen Ellyn residents – with possible use by other citizens for a greater fee. Why not make the restored spaces open for everyone to use or book at one fee for all, while at the same time any Glen Ellyn programming or events could be just for Glen Ellyn residents?"
However, she expressed optimism those concerns could be addressed to everyone's satisfaction.
Whelan said he would like to see improvements made to the McKee House sooner rather than later to prevent further deterioration. The building needs a new roof, which was estimated to cost about $46,000 two years ago, he said.
"We've got to stop the water coming into the place," he said. "It's one of the most important first steps that has to be done because it stops the running of the leakage, and that's what is debilitating the building."
The Glen Ellyn Village Board and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Board of Commissioners would have to approve the lease agreement, and the village of Lombard would have to sign off on the agreement because the McKee House and maintenance building are within Lombard's boundaries, Whelan said.