With agreement signed, West Chicago Wiant House will live again

Published: Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 10:42 p.m. CDT

WEST CHICAGO – With the signing of an agreement between the city of West Chicago and the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center, the historic Joel Wiant House will be saved.

After facing demolition in the past, which was met with strong community opposition, the 144-year-old house located in West Chicago's Turner Junction Historic District will instead undergo repairs to bring its exterior into compliance with City Code.

"We always wanted a positive end to this," Mayor Ruben Pineda said.

An agreement to sell the house to the community center was signed by the mayor at the City Council meeting Dec. 2, after aldermen unanimously granted Pineda the authority to enter into it. Center President David Sabathne signed the agreement beforehand.

The approved agreement was revised from a previous version that went unsigned for more than a month as city staff and community center officials discussed the specifics.

Key changes to the agreement included transferring ownership of the Wiant House to the community center before – rather than after – the work takes place and extending the project timeline from April 30, 2014, to July 31, 2014.

"Good came out of the delay," Sabathne said. "We're thrilled."

The community center came forward as a buyer for the Wiant House in August after other suitable developers failed to surface.

After the City Council voted to buy the house for $260,000 in October 2011, staff were unable to find a developer willing to take on the project of restoring the home. The city then requested a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city's Historical Preservation Commission to demolish the building, but the commission denied the request twice.

Representatives from the community center had previously expressed interest in the Wiant House, but didn't want to get in the way of any private developers until they appeared to be the historic home's only hope.

"Once you tear down history, it's gone, and we never wanted to see that," Pineda said. "We just had to be fiscally responsible, and financially, it wasn't something that the city wanted to venture into; it was just too expensive, so I'm glad that they stepped up."

Work will begin on the house as soon as possible and continue through the winter, Sabathne said.

Areas of focus include repairing the roof, replacing windows and demolishing exterior stairs and decks that were not part of the original structure, he said.

Because the Wiant House, located at 151 W. Washington St., is part of a historic district, any exterior work will require approval from the Historical Preservation Commission.

Most restorations are expected to be completed by the original April deadline, but the needed masonry work requires warmer weather, Sabathne said. As part of the agreement, extensions may be made if necessary.

While the exact project cost is not yet finalized, it is expected to total about $350,000 to $400,000.

Interior plans for the Wiant House include creating office space on the first floor and housing on the second, with the goal of eventually selling the house to a private owner.

With the work of repairing the house about to begin, Sabathne said he was happy to have the process of establishing an agreement with the city behind him.

"We are officially done," he said. "It feels awesome."

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