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Agreement between city and community center may save historic West Chicago house

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 12:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:55 p.m. CDT

WEST CHICAGO – By April 30, 2014, the 144-year-old Joel Wiant House, located in West Chicago's Turner Junction Historic District, may look a little different.

With a restored roof, bricks, windows and more, the house's exterior will no longer violate City Code, thanks to a proposed agreement between West Chicago and local community center officials.

The West Chicago City Council's Development Committee recommended approval of the agreement at a special meeting Sept. 19. It will go before the City Council Oct. 7.

"I'm hopeful that the City Council will be in agreement with the Committee, and I'm excited to see some work done," said Janet Hale, chair of the city's Historical Preservation Commission, which previously recommended against possible demolition of the home.

As part of the proposed agreement, the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center in West Chicago will make various exterior repairs to the Wiant House at 151 W. Washington St. in order to bring the structure up to code.

"Before we start restoring it to the end product, first we have to address the issues, because we have a liability hanging over there," community center President David Sabathne said.

The agreement requires the repairs be completed by April 30, 2014, although extensions may be made if necessary, the document states.

According to the agreement, the center will purchase the building for $1 from the city after the repairs are made, and the city also will pay the center $1 for the work performed, making it an even exchange.

After purchasing the property, the next step for the community center would be to continue any exterior work that is needed beyond what makes the building code-compliant and to complete interior renovations, Sabathne said.

Any work that is done, including the removal of attached stairs and decks that were not part of the original structure and now violate City Code, will require approval from the Historical Preservation Commission because the Wiant House is part of a historic district, he said.

With any work the center completes, the house's historic character will be taken into account, Sabathne said.

The center plans to put office space on the first floor of the Wiant House and housing on the second floor, similar to the setup of the building in the past, he said. However, instead of having two one-bedroom apartments, the second floor would have one apartment with two bedrooms.

The goal is eventually to sell the house to a private owner, but the center would find tenants to rent the office and housing space in the meantime, Sabathne said.

The center has about $400,000 available for the project, although Sabathne said he hopes they will not have to spend the full amount.

The proposed agreement stands in contrast to efforts the city made in the past to demolish the home, when a suitable buyer could not be found.

The lack of a buyer led the Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center to step up to save the historic home, which Sabathne says is essential to the historic district.

"You have to do everything you can to preserve what remains," he said.

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