By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
A historic home the city had hoped to use for its Resident Officer Program of Elgin will be mothballed instead because the renovation costs are too high, and local officials hope the community will step up to raise the capital for its eventual makeover.
The Elgin City Council voted Wednesday to put the project on ice. Staff members explained to the council that the planned renovation costs far exceeded the project’s budget.
The city purchased the home at 302 W. Chicago St. in January 2009 at a cost of $222,500 after some neighborhood residents complained about criminal activities at the building, according to Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal. He said Monday the city purchased the building with the intent of rehabbing it and converting it to use as a ROPE home. The Near West Neighbors Association had requested the city move its existing ROPE home on Union Street to the Chicago Street location, Kozal said.
And while the city budgeted $268,000 from its Riverboat Fund in 2011 and had an additional $100,000 in grant funding through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding for the project, bids came in much higher – at $610,293..
“We’re recommending mothballing it, given the cost to bring it back up to speed, and hope that we might be able to enlist the community,” Kozal said.
City staff’s documentation for the council agenda item shows the home originally was built in 1846 for brothers William C. and Samuel J Kimball, whose father, Joseph Kimball, was a co-founder of Elgin. The home is of cobblestone, load-bearing masonry construction and is believed to be the oldest surviving residence in the city.
When purchased, the house was being used a rental property that had been converted to five apartments and was in significant disrepair.
Kozal defended the city’s decision to purchase the property, saying that alone corrected problems there.
“There was a recognized need,” Kozal said. “The community had a desire for the city to come in and purchase that property, which has a historic significance, and make it a home for the ROPE office.”
“Nobody recognized the problems were there – it’s not until we were able to get in and actually have an engineer determine the scope of the property’s condition” that the city began to understand how costly the project would be.
So far, the city has spent about $40,575 on a structural assessment, soil borings, completed interior demolition, interior stabilization work, architectural drawings and related work.
In July 2010, the city staff presented the City Council with a concept for the structure’s rehabilitation and a cost estimated at $454,200. The city council directed the staff to bid the project.
Bids were opened April 22 and showed a combined apparent low bid of $610,293.
The cost of mothballing the building – essentially boarding it up to protect it from the weather and to secure it from vandalism – is $950, Kozal said.
Staff documentation also recommends the community be enlisted to support the property’s renovation, similar to the grass-roots efforts used to renovate Old Main, another historical Elgin structure.
In a related area, the council voted 5-1 to approve change orders totaling $47,824 to complete the renovation of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program properties at 463 and 457-59 E. Chicago St.
The source of the funding is a nearly $2.16 million federal grant from HUD that the city is using to buy and rehabilitate abandoned and foreclosed properties to restore them to residential use.
Under the program, the city typically buys and rehabs the buildings and then sells them, usually at a loss, to those who meet the federal program’s income guidelines.
The properties at 463 and 457-59 E. Chicago St. are historic homes, and city staff explained that at one of those homes in particular, there were structural problems that could not have been anticipated because they were hidden behind walls or beneath flooring and were not visible when contractors inspected the homes before submitting bids on the work. In all the instance, the problems became apparent as flooring or walls were removed during the renovation work. Another building required changes to a garage roof that was not up to existing code.
The amount of the change orders – and the fact that some of the renovations cost more than the city paid for the homes – brought criticism of the program from Councilman John Prigge. He said he did not support the program in the first place and that the two change orders would bring the total price of renovating just those two homes to nearly $500,000, not including the purchase price.
Councilwoman Anna Moeller noted, however, that the homes the city purchased through the grant program were distressed homes – “the worst of the worst in these neighborhoods,” and that the renovations would improve those neighborhoods.
Councilman Richard Dunne also expressed concern that the sales of the homes not affect neighboring property values.
Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said that once the renovations are complete, the city intends to sell the homes at fair market value, which should not have a negative impact on the neighborhoods in which they are located.
If, he added, the city did sell any of the homes as less than fair market value, a transfer stamp could be attached to the sale to reflect the true fair market value of the property.