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DeKalb County sober house needs state permits to open

Plastic fencing surrounds a section of yard at the Sober House at 491 East State Street on Monday, August 29, 2016 in Sycamore.
Plastic fencing surrounds a section of yard at the Sober House at 491 East State Street on Monday, August 29, 2016 in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – What was supposed to be a simple project to convert a 70-year-old State Street home into a DeKalb County-run sober living facility for men has been hit was a series of time-consuming setbacks and costly overruns.

More than a year after the county bought the home at 491 E. State St. in Sycamore for $145,000, it has yet to house a single sober resident. In fact, county and court officials said they still don’t know when the house – which one County Board member has called a “money pit,” might be able to open.

Drug Court Administrator Michael Douglas said renovation work is continuing at the home, but no completion date has been set for the project because some of the work requires a permit from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“We are not sure how long it will be until the permit is issued,” Douglas said in an email earlier this month.

Replacing a lead-based water main that serves the home requires getting permission from IDOT to dig up Route 64, officials have said.

The county bought the property to be used as a court-run sober living facility June 2, 2015, after a long back-and-forth with the city of Sycamore. In September of that year, Douglas told the county’s Law and Justice Committee “that they are anxious to open the facility and estimated that they may be able to begin operation in four to six weeks,” according to meeting minutes.

A home inspection – done in October 2014 before the county put up money to buy it – noted that the house was 70 to 75 years old and recommended that an HVAC technician examine both the furnaces in the home. It further noted that the heating system was 35 to 40 years old and that both furnaces would likely need to be repaired or replaced within five years.

As it turned out, both furnaces failed over the winter. Because the home was empty, those failures led water pipes inside to freeze, then burst, causing extensive water damage. While looking into how much those repairs would cost, other problems, including the lead-based water main, were discovered, County Administrator Gary Hanson said.

County Board member Dan Cribben, R-District 11, who sits on the Law and Justice Committee, called the house a “money pit” in May when the committee was told that estimates to get the house up and running totaled $175,000 to $200,000 and would require a contribution of up to $75,000 from the county because the drug court didn’t have enough money. (The drug court held a charity run this year for the first time that raised $2,000 that will be used for updates and modifications at the sober house, Douglas said.)

Cribben said that he believes the project is in good hands, with direct oversight and involvement from Hanson. Hanson’s involvement was a condition of the additional $75,000 the county approved, Cribben said.

“Gary Hanson has taken more direct responsibility,” he said. “This was the least costly alternative.”

Essentially, the county was faced with the prospect of putting more money into the property or selling it for a significant loss. The Law and Justice Committee plans to tour the facility next month to see the progress
firsthand, Cribben said.

Committee Chairman John Frieders, R-District 12, said that although the project turned into being more work than initially anticipated, the county “needed to see that it was taken care of.”

“The County Board is committed to the sober living home program,” Frieders said.

Despite growing frustrations, the County Board did approve up to $75,000 to complete the project, Hanson said. The sober house is expected to be self-sufficient once it is opened.

In the meantime, men in the drug court program have alternatives, including living at Hope Haven, a homeless shelter in DeKalb, or living with family members while going through the program, Douglas said.

Hanson said the project was hampered by unforeseen circumstances. He said that everyone working on the project wanted to see it completed as soon as possible and without further overruns.

Others, including DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, want to see the house filled with people.

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