Historical value of Camp Algonquin buildings debated

RINGWOOD – The future of three former Camp Algonquin buildings is in limbo while McHenry County Conservation District trustees weigh their historical value versus the cost of saving them.

A master plan being considered by the board proposes the demolition of all the 40-some buildings except the recreation hall, which would be reworked into a rental hall for weddings and meetings.

The plan, which looks at the 279-acre Fox Bluff Conservation Area, also proposes providing kayak and canoe access at the Fox River along with a paved trail leading to a pier, recognizing the Gillilan farmstead as a historical area and developing a pedestrian trail system.

The McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission and the McHenry County Historical Society's board hope three more buildings – one of the dormitories, the dairy barn and a small counselors cabin – can be saved, their representatives said during the public comment period at the board's meeting Thursday evening.

"What we're asking you to consider is that man has been upon that land for 160, 170 years," said Bob Frenz, a Crystal Lake resident and the society's board president. "To give a portrayal of that property without the buildings ... would not be totally accurate."

The board is set to vote on the plan at its September meeting.

During a discussion Thursday evening, four of the five trustees present voiced support for demolishing the buildings.

One trustee, David Brandt, had changed his mind about demolishing the three buildings, Board President Matthew Ewertowski told the board, raising hesitations about moving forward.

Because Brandt is unable to attend the September meeting, staff members will ask him to prepare a written statement to read at the meeting.

The board doesn't need to rush the vote because it doesn't have the funds to implement the plan right away, board Secretary Bona Heinsohn said.

The issue isn't that the board doesn't recognize the historical value of the structures, it's that the district doesn't have the money to restore or even shore up the buildings, Trustee Bonnie Leahy said.

The district is facing a tight budget as it approaches a cap on how much it can levy. The state law governing conservation districts ties the cap to the overall property value in the district.

The district spends about $20,000 in heating the 40-plus buildings at the site, Operations and Public Safety Director John Kremer said.

Kremer didn't have a cost estimate on what it would take to keep the three buildings intact, thus leaving them an option in case funds do come through.

The board did decide to go ahead with the demolition of the buildings not being debated, which means district staff members can't stop maintaining them but can auction off the items inside.

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