Woodstock City Council approves plan for Grace Hall to be torn down

WOODSTOCK – The City Council cleared the way for the demolition of Grace Hall on Tuesday night, determining that Woodstock Christian Life Services made a good faith effort to save the building.

The Prairie-style brick building once was part of the Todd School for Boys. The building served as a classroom and dormitory for Orson Welles, among others. The Woodstock Historic Preservation Commission also has recommended that the 7,300-square-foot structure be preserved as a landmark.

Woodstock Christian Life Services plans to build a duplex on the Grace Hall site and three additional duplexes on the surrounding property. The City Council voted, 5-1, in favor of allowing the plan to move forward.

“I don’t know why they are so anxious to knock down a building which has been architecturally recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmark Illinois,” Woodstock resident Caryl Lemanski said.

Lemanski and her husband, Dan, have been at the forefront of efforts to save the building. Caryl filed the nomination to make Grace Hall a landmark.

Woodstock Christian Life Services is a nonprofit corporation that provides senior housing and care for the elderly.

Its redevelopment plan was approved about eight months ago by the City Council with a set of conditions meant to encourage a compromise that might save Grace Hall.

Two options were considered to save the building: reusing it for senior living as part of the redevelopment plan and moving the building to an adjacent piece of property.

Although most of those in favor of saving the building focused on reusing Grace Hall, officials from Woodstock Christian Life Services said such an option was not economically viable. Transforming Grace Hall into two senior condos would have cost about $150,000 to $160,000 more than the construction of one duplex – about $75,000 more a unit.

Moving the building also would be expensive, about $462,000. Also, an adjacent property would have to be bought, which would increase the total cost to about $600,000.

Mark Gummerson, attorney for Woodstock Christian Life Services, said those who support saving Grace Hall had no problem “sitting back and criticizing” their efforts, but never put “their money where their mouth is.”

“The attitude has been, ‘You go ahead and assume the costs and the risks because we think it’s a novel idea,’ ” Gummerson said.

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