Darien aldermen not sold on bailing out historical society

<p>1934 Old Lace School class picture. | Photo courtesy of the Darien Historical Society.</p>

1934 Old Lace School class picture. | Photo courtesy of the Darien Historical Society.

The future of the Darien Historical Society remains unclear as the City Council considers the group’s request for a cash infusion of more than $40,000 for capital improvements at Old Lace School, the society’s headquarters and museum.

A discussion Monday raised considerably more questions than answers, many of which centered on control of group’s archival holdings as well as Old Lace School, 7422 S. Cass Ave. Built in 1925, the school was used by Darien Elementary District 61 until 1968. It then served as Darien’s first City Hall for a few years after the city was incorporated in 1969, avoided demolition in the mid-1970s when it was restored by the Darien Bicentennial Commission, and opened as a museum in 1980. A lack of funding and other factors means the facility is opened to the public for just two hours (1 to 3 p.m.) on the first Sunday of each month.

That fact that District 61 retains ownership of the land and building is a primary concern to aldermen, who noted capital upgrades to the property made now will essentially be leasehold improvements that ultimately benefit District 61, rather than the city. At the same time, 2nd Ward Alderman Tina Beilke noted support for the mission of the historical society and its museum is virtually non-existent among residents of her ward.

“As for financial support, my constituents are telling me, flat-out no,” Beilke said, adding she is an historical societymember and actively supports its mission. “Older people are interested, but the younger generation has little or no interest.”

Sixth Ward Alderman Sylvia McIvor raised the possibility that artifacts, photos, objects and other archival holdings might best be stored and displayed at some location. Suggested locations included Darien City Hall and the Indian Prairie Public Library.

“The historical society is looking to the city to essentially bail them out,” McIvor said. “The facility itself is the thing that has the most capital needs. It is owned by District 61, as is the land. To me, the question is where is the archival material going to be located?”

McIvor also agreed with Beilke that residents who have discussed the matter with her have no interest in spending the city’s tax dollars on Old Lace School building improvements.

“My residents don’t see the value in it,” she said. “I support the historical society, but other people would rather look things up online than go into a building.”

After discussing the formation of a committee to study the issue, aldermen and Mayor Kathleen Weaver ultimately decided the best course for now was for council members and staff to draw up a series of questions regarding lease agreements, required capital improvements and other considerations. Historical society members would then be asked to tackle these questions at the May 5 City Council meeting.

“The DHS has to sell the council on the idea of keeping this thing going,” said 5th Ward Alderman Joseph Marchese. “I believe we all want to highlight and preserve our past, but the question is, does it have to be done from that building?”

In other action Monday night, the City Council:

• Reminded residents the spring branch pickup continues through Friday. Branches up to 6 inches in diameter are accepted when set out untied at the curb. The next branch pickup is set for the week of June 23.

• Encouraged nominations for the Humanitarian of the Year Award bestowed by the Darien Lions Club. The nomination deadline has been extended into May, and the award will be made in June. Those interested should visit www.darienlions.org for more information and the nomination form.

• Acknowledged the 25th anniversary of the Indian Prairie Public Library, which will be celebrated with the 1980s-themed family birthday party from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the library, 401 Plainfield Road. Weaver and other city officials plan to attend.

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