The initial verdict on the historic McKee House is in: While some areas will require substantial work, the home near Glen Ellyn is structurally sound and capable of being used again, after sitting vacant for more than 10 years.
"Overall, the bones of the house are in good condition," said Mara Braspenninx of AltusWorks, Inc., the architectural design firm contracted by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to study the house's restoration potential. "That doesn't mean that it's move-in ready. There is going to be some work needed to make it habitable."
The house is located in the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve near the Glen Ellyn-Lombard border and has long received support from groups in the area, including Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation.
Most of the damage involves water. Land grading near the home has caused stormwater to flood the basement throughout the years. The house also has clogged, missing and damaged gutters and downspouts.
The house's roof will need to be replaced, as its shingles are in poor condition and a hole in the roof allows additional water to enter the structure. Moisture and a lack of ventilation in the home have caused mold to grow in certain areas.
Community members shared ideas for potential uses of the McKee House at a public meeting held Aug. 21 in Glen Ellyn.
The idea that received the most votes from meeting attendees was to use the facility to celebrate the house's history. Another popular idea was to partner with local colleges to offer classroom space.
Linda Gilbert, former president of Citizens for Glen Ellyn Preservation, has heard from one college in the area interested in using part of the house as an off-site science classroom.
The McKee House has a long history in DuPage County, serving as the Forest Preserve District's first administration building. It was built in 1936 and named after the first district superintendent to live there, Robert McKee.
Many community members pointed to the house's historical significance while giving feedback on what they think the its future should look like.
AltusWorks identified the following restorative priorities to prepare the house for use: replacing the roof, repairing the drainage system, installing new utilities and eliminating the dangers of mold and lead paint in the home.
Feedback shared at the public meeting will be used by AltusWorks staff as they complete their report on the McKee House. In collaboration with the Forest Preserve District, they will determine one option that would work best for the house and further examine the costs and other factors associated with that option.
Braspenninx said she expects to submit a draft report to the Forest Preserve District within the next six weeks.
Based on the district's historic building policy, a nonprofit will need to be formed to fund the restoration, which has to be supported primarily through fundraising efforts or grants, rather than the district's budget, said Commissioner Tim Whelan, who represents the area of the Forest Preserve District that includes the McKee House.
"I'm excited about this new and upcoming adventure," Whelan said.