By Vince Gerasole

CHICAGO (CBS)–A controversy is brewing on the sandy shores of Evanston, where the future of a historic mansion is under debate.

Owned by the City of Evanston, the Harley Clarke mansion once housed arts programs, but it is now in need of at least $660,000 in repairs–and that’s just for starters.

The city has been entertaining proposals on what to do with the vacant home for years. A non-profit wants to put money into repairing the building, while a group of Evanston residents say they want it torn down.

With its stone walls and graceful lines, the home is an architectural standout. It won an arts commission award when it was built in 1927.

“We’re not just about saving a building–we’re about saving this building to become something,” said Tom Hodgman of Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, a non-profit advocating for the building’s preservation. “We are not just about saving this building, but we want to save this building to become something better.”

The nonprofit wanted to lease the space for educational programs, but last minute funding concerns have caused the City of Evanston to reconsider.

The mansion’s proximity to the beach has some residents like Nicole Kustok saying the extra space would boost opportunities to enjoy nature.

“We feel what people use are the beach and the dunes,” Kustok said. “The kids are out here every day enjoying nature.”

Several Evanston families have approached city officials, offering to pay on their own dime to tear down the mansion and repurpose the parkland. They say they’ve seen efforts to save the mansion drag on too long.

“We didn’t feel the philanthropic capacity was there or it might drain other projects,” Kustok said.

Hodgman said private funds shouldn’t be used to control the future of a piece of property that is supposed to be enjoyed by the public.

“Private citizens proposing to destroy a public asset–I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Hodgman said.