DECATUR - The city symbol is about to get a makeover.

Members of the Decatur City Council agree they want to renovate the exterior of the Transfer House as soon as possible.

The undertaking could cost between $432,173 and $508,728, according to project estimates from Peoria-based Farnsworth Group. Project costs could rise about 3 percent in a year.

The effort seeks to restore the 150-ton city symbol to its historical glory.

"We've been working hand-in-glove with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to make sure that everything that we're going to put into the project meets their standards," said John Bishop, an architect for Farnsworth Group.

Work would include re-roofing, window restoration, demolition of interior office partitions, stone restoration and replacement of doors.

"It's full steam ahead," Mayor Paul Osborne said of restoration work. "I'm really excited about this. It's long, long overdue.

"It's the icon of the city. We want to save it and restore it and make it look presentable to the city and to visitors."

The next step will be to gather bid proposals for restoration work, Osborne said. Council members agree: The sooner, the better.

Engineering work could begin in late spring or early summer next year, Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus said.

"Let's get it started," Councilman Mike McElroy said.

"The Transfer House has suffered in a state of disrepair for a long time," Councilman Michael Carrigan said. "It deserves to be renovated."

Osborne hopes to gather input from the community about how best to use the inside of the building. The council likely will hold study sessions about what to do with the restored building, he said.

Osborne earlier proposed moving the Transfer House back to its original home at Main and Main streets, known as Lincoln Square, as part of his Treasures of Decatur initiative.

The mayor envisioned packing the Transfer House with high-tech interactive features similar to those found at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

The city symbol would have served as the center of a wheel of Lincoln attractions from which tourists could radiate, the mayor thought.

But the Illinois Department of Transportation nixed the plan late last year, citing "significant risks" to traffic flow and safety.

Osborne said the Transfer House is a downtown treasure, regardless of where it sits.

The restored structure still could serve as an interactive tourist site at Central Park. The Transfer House could be a starting point for a tour of downtown's historical sites and connections with Lincoln, Osborne said.

Council members voiced strong support for restoration efforts.

"I would at least like to see the building be watertight and the exterior renovation happen as soon as possible," Councilman Shad Edwards said.

Visitors from across the country and sister cities overseas recognize the Transfer House as the city's icon, Edwards said.

"We've let it go far too long," Edwards said. "I'd like to see it restored."

The city budgeted about $100,000 this fiscal year to go toward Transfer House restoration efforts.

Those funds should be sufficient for work done this fiscal year, and additional funds will be available in upcoming fiscal years, Tyus said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation also offers grant funds for projects that have a historical tie to transportation, Bishop said.

The lion's share of project costs goes toward reroofing the round structure. Reroofing efforts could cost more than $259,000, according to project estimates.

Work would include demolition, roofing materials, exterior lighting, wood restoration for trusses and columns, painting and replacement of an ornamental spire and ladder.

The structure's history is intertwined with transportation.

Construction of the Transfer House was completed in 1896, and the structure served as a station for streetcars and buses.

For decades, the Transfer House held court at Lincoln Square, where it served as the center of the community. Main streets radiated in each direction from the building.

But for the past 44 years, the building has rested in Central Park.

The move came in 1962, when the Transfer House was rolled down four blocks to its current home. It then served as a bus terminal, until about 1970, when it began to house the Downtown Decatur Council.

The Downtown Decatur Council had rented office space in the city-owned Transfer House for about $1 per year but moved out last year.

The downtown group cited problems that needed immediate attention, including termite and mouse infestation.

"The building just needs some love and care," said Bishop, the Farnsworth architect.

Mike Frazier can be reached at mfrazier@herald-review.com or 421-7985.

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