Greek houses require sprinklers by Jan. 1

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — Greek-affiliated house owners have until Jan. 1 to install sprinkler systems in apartment buildings.

Eric Hicks, City of DeKalb Fire Department chief, delivered an update during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting about progress made to ensure Greek row apartments are in compliance with the Greek Housing Fire Safety Act. The city is obligated to have all existing Greek housing at least partially sprinklered no later than Jan. 1.

The act was initiated as the 2005 Illinois Fire Sprinkler Dormitory Act, which required all dormitories to install fire sprinklers, regardless if students lived in public or private dorms.

The act was amended to include the Greek Housing Fire Safety Act, which extended the obligation of fire sprinkler installation to be installed in housing for the Greek community.

Hicks said 28 properties have been used as Greek housing, and 22 are currently housing Greek students. Hicks said it was important to include the six buildings that are currently unoccupied by Greek organizations in case Greek organizations decide to use the structures as housing in the future.

Only seven properties are fully sprinklered, and one is partially sprinklered.

“We’re looking somewhere between $50,000 to $80,000 for the larger structures, and that would include the system and the water supply,” Hicks said.

Additional costs for fire alarm systems that are capable of supporting a sprinkler system range from $15,000 to $30,000, Hick said.

If the city were to update all 28 Greek structures, Hicks said it is estimated to cost $1.75 million versus $1.2 million for the buildings currently occupied by students.

Community Development Developer Jo Ellen Charlton said city officials have looked into ways to possibly assist owners in getting their buildings up to code while bearing the city’s infrastructure funds in mind.

She said the city has about $1.5 million in water funds it could use to assist owners on a loan basis.

“That loan could be set up with a term and repayment schedule that we could determine, but again understanding that we’re trying to protect the city’s water capital fund,” Charlton said. “Our idea was to place it at a little bit less than attractive if someone went into a bank to get financing for this type of improvement.”

Hicks said it’s necessary to know if the City Council will reach a consensus to support the act and how it would define Greek housing.

“Our recommendation at this point is to just follow the Greeks,” Charlton said.

Communication between the city and Greek organizations and where they intend to go is the best way to decide where to implement the Greek Housing Fire Safety Act, Charlton said.

First Ward Alderperson David Jacobson recused himself from discussions or considering the matter because he owns a fraternity house, advises a fraternity and lives in one of the building’s units, but spoke as a citizen during the public comment period.

Jacobson urged the council to put a great deal of time and effort into the definition, especially since smaller organizations move buildings every few years.

He said the law could impact him because even though he is not a Greek student, his apartment would need to be updated and have a sprinkler system installed to comply with the law.

“I think it is imperative for the council to define what a Greek housing structure is going to be for a very simple reason,” Jacobson said. “Someone like me would be a perfect example.”

Glenn Roby, Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity advisor, said he “feels positive” about some of the city’s recommendations but had some concerns about how the law should be implemented.

He said it would be ideal for the city to allow owners who intend to comply with the law an extension if they begin installing sprinklers before the Jan. 1 deadline but are interrupted.

“If we have tenants that are in the building and the building is intended to be sprinkled and the work isn’t done by Jan. 1, having an extension at least through the end of the next school year is probably something I think the city should consider,” Roby said.