Cary looking at what’s next for vacant Kraus Senior Center

Village officials want developers to take over site, while still keeping historic elements of the 100-plus-year-old building

Now that the Kraus Senior Center in Cary has been completely vacated, village officials are looking at their options for the space, with many leaning toward an adaptive reuse of the historic building.

Built in 1888, the building at 441 W Main St. used to be a one-story school before a second story was added in 1892, McHenry County Historical Society Administrator Kurt Begalka said.

It was eventually sold to the Curtiss Candy Company and then bought by the village in 1955, Village Administrator Jake Rife said. In 2003, Begalka said, the Cary Park District started leasing the center for senior programs and activities, including bingo and trivia.

But now the Cary Park District is completely moved out of the Kraus Senior Center, named for former Cary Mayor August Kraus, and hosting senior programs at Cary Park District Community Center at 255 Briargate Road.

The park district already had been looking to move from 441 W. Main St. as part of its comprehensive master plan, Cary Park District Executive Director Dan Jones said. An aging building, it had a number of maintenance items that needed to be addressed and needed work to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The doorways at the Kraus Senior Center are narrow, Jones said, and it doesn’t have an elevator, unlike the community center.

Volunteers Melissa Victor, left, and Ellen McAlpine package up meals for seniors during the second annual drive through Holiday Party in a Bag for local senior adults hosted by the Cary Park District on Thursday, December 23, 2021 at the Cary Community Center. The Holiday Party in a Bag included a holiday meal, small games and treats. Ryan Rayburn for Shaw Local

The COVID-19 pandemic, which came with restrictions on social gatherings, he said, helped push them to move “organically,” Jones said, as the community center has more space for them to use. They haven’t really used the Kraus Senior Center for programming since March 2020, Jones said.

At a recent Cary Committee of the Whole meeting, where village trustees meet to discuss topics before officially voting on them at a Village Board meeting, Rife said the board has a few options it could consider for the 441 W. Main St. property.

One would be to solicit redevelopment proposals by people who would find a “creative adaptive reuse” of the Kraus Senior Center, Rife said.

Cary officials also could market the property with a broker, take it to auction, or find a different tenant for the property, Rife said.

Other taxing bodies Cary reached out to weren’t interested in taking over ownership of the building, he said.

Cary trustees at the meeting were largely supportive of an adaptive reuse for the site, saying they wanted to keep it intact because of the historical significance to the village.

A request for proposals, with a Feb. 9 deadline, was posted on Cary’s website. Rife told trustees at the meeting that if a developer said they want to knock the building down, they can reject the proposal.

“Given the local history of some of our neighboring villages using some of the older buildings as a centerpiece or as a portion of a redevelopment, there’s some flavor out there for that right now. And we all know the housing market is extremely warm still,” Trustee Rick Walrath said. “I think that we might find a good market for a [request for proposals] and then hopefully find somebody that can do something very creative to keep that building in Cary.”

Trustee Ellen McAlpine said the worst thing that can happen should Cary take this option is the village not getting proposals, but if that happens, they can revisit the topic of what to do with the property.

“I think we’re all in agreement that this is a historical building that would be great to be able to have someone adapt it and utilize it,” she said.

One developer who came to see the building was pleased with the structural integrity of the building, Rife said, adding that this visit was just a quick look to check the property out.

“I think that there are others out there that are going to be interested in it,” Rife said.

Trustee Rick Dudek asked if it would be possible to think the decision over for a bit.

In response, Rife said Cary’s public works department goes to 441 W. Main St. once a week to look at the building to make sure there aren’t any pipes that break or other maintenance issues.

“We do feel that we probably need to take action on it sooner than later,” Rife said. “I’d rather not wait on this.”

It is a win for communities whenever they’re able to repurpose a structure like this, Begalka said in an email.

“The easy thing to do is to simply tear such buildings of character downs, sweep aside the historic streetscape and put up yet another modern-looking retail center with the typical chain coffee or sandwich shop, … just like everywhere else,” Begalka said. “This former school has the potential of becoming something special. My hope is that someone out there has the vision and wherewithal to achieve that.”

1930 class picture at Cary Public School, which later became the August Kraus Senior Center.