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Committee recommends extension for Wiant House restoration

WEST CHICAGO – The community center working to restore West Chicago's historic Wiant House is hoping to receive an extension to do so, after weather, unexpected complications and a need to redesign plans has made the original deadline of July 31 difficult to meet.

"We could meet the timeframe if we adhere to the requirements of our agreement," said Dave Sabathne, president and CEO of the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center. "However, that doesn't produce the best long-term solution."

The agreement made between West Chicago and the community center only requires the center to make repairs necessary to bringing the exterior of the Wiant House into compliance with City Code. However, the center wants to do more.

The city's Development Committee decided Monday to recommend that the West Chicago center have until Nov. 30 to complete its exterior work. The committee's recommendation is expected to head to the City Council next Monday.

Since beginning efforts this spring after a long, brutal winter, crews discovered the bricks of one interior wall had disintegrated into sand. Until the plaster from the outer part of the wall was removed, workers had no idea of the extent of the damage to that wall, requiring a new wall to be built to stabilize the house for exterior work.

"That was a realization that we can't allow our timeframe to be so tight," Sabathne said.

With continued work on the Wiant House, the community center has gained more intimate insight into the best ways to restore the structure, leading to some changes in the group's original plans and requiring the center to receive new Certificates of Appropriateness from the city's Historical Preservation Commission for the redesigns before they can take place.

For example, the house's east deck and stairs that were not part of the original structure have been demolished, and they will be replaced by a set of stairs that appear historically accurate while still bearing a ramp to make the home more accessible. Redesigned plans for the west deck also will require a new certificate.

"The end goal is to have the very best end product," Sabathne said. "We believed that the city would be supportive of this extension with the compelling factors being that we want to get a better product, we want to get the very best end result."

The center plans to submit new designs to the commission for approval in the coming weeks, he said.

Built in 1869, the house at 151 W. Washington St. was home to retired businessman Joel Wiant and later, West Chicago’s first city attorney, John Leedle. Despite its history, the Wiant House faced demolition at the hands of the city until the community center stepped up to buy the home from West Chicago in summer 2013.

The agreement between the two entities allows City Administrator Michael Guttman to extend the work deadline by 30 days without approval needed by the City Council, said John Said, the city's community development director. Beyond that, other extensions need to be grant by councilmembers.

Rather than potentially having to extend the deadline twice, the City Council will vote at this time whether to approve one extension to Nov. 30, based on staff recommendation.

However, unless more complications are discovered – like the crumbling interior wall – Sabathne expects to have the exterior work on the Wiant House completed by Aug. 30.

About 80 percent of the necessary exterior work to the home has been completed so far, most of it to address the structure's integrity isses, he said.

Many of the windows have been repaired as well.

The total cost for both the interior and exterior work is projected to be $350,000 to $400,000. While Sabathne expects the cost will now exceed $350,000, he said it won't be more than $400,000.

Future plans for the interior of the Wiant House include office space downstairs and a two-bedroom apartment upstairs.

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