Life Safety: High-rise elevator, sprinkler retrofit/Life Safety Evaluation ordinance and other building requirements

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Development Zoning and Preservation task force, and its website, The following is presented as a service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference website and the Condominiums/Cooperatives Committee of HPKCC. Help support our work as watchdog, forum and clearing house: Join the Conference.

CITY ENERGY BENCHMARK PROP. ORD. - ANOTHER MANDATE FOR LARGE BLDGS. WAS DEFERRED AND PUBLISHED TO SEPT. BY THE COMMITEE AND CITY COUNICIL. Hairston and other lakefront ald (except Burns and Moore) supported the deferral. This is thought by many not so bad except 1) possibility that it could be used as excuse for future expensive mandates, 2) potential for abuse including in competition between buildings as information is to shared. SEE DETAILS!!!
5th Ward Monthly Meeting combined with meeting by 7th Ward Alderman Natasha Holmes to focus on the proposed city Energy Benchmark Inventory Survey (SEE DETAILS)- a mandate including for large residential buildings. PASSED CITY COUNCIL SEPTEMER 12.

THE STATE FIRE INSPECTOR DROPPED (suspended!) HIS July 2013 PROPOSAL FOR SPRINKLER AND OTHER RETROFITS, at least for now-- the public was heard loud and clear.
( Alarm has been sounded over the state's fire marshal's determination to require retrofitting of buildings with sprinklers and other life-safety devices. The legislature could act to stop. There will be dispute as to whether the city ordinance supersedes Rep. Currie thinks the city overrides and there is no state legislation. In the August 25 Herald, she shares her letter to Gov. Quinn on the subject.)

City Council September 11 passed ordinances requiring restaurants (any place selling alcohol except package stores) to post and ban firearms from their establishments.

To Early 21st c. Chicago Bldg. Code revisions in light of disasters. To Condo/Co-ops Committee. To Taxes, High Assessments, Exemptions and Rebates. To Community News. To Development Issues and Policy. Community News.

ENERGY BENCHMARK ORDINANCE DETAILS (to be voted on by City Council in September)

Ald. Hairston writes: Energy Benchmark Ordinance

The City of Chicago has introduced a mandatory energy disclosure ordinance that will ultimately affect all buildings over 50,000 sq. ft., both commercial and residential.

There are a number of concerns as to how the “Energy Benchmark” Ordinance may impact the bottom lines of both property owners and renters. As 5th Ward Alderman, I am joining my colleague in the 7th Ward to schedule a briefing on the proposed ordinance. Ald. Natasha Holmes and I invite you to attend my next scheduled ward meeting on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., 6:00 p.m.


•It will affect all apartment and condo buildings of 50,000 sq. ft. or more by June of 2016. All residential buildings of over 250,000 sq. ft. must disclose energy use by 2015
•The failure of any tenant or owner to provide information to the landlord or condo will result in a fine of up to $100 for the first violation, and an additional fine of $25 for each day the violation continues. While electric bills are readily available from ComEd, you must get your tenants and unit owners to disclose gas usage.
•Condos will need to have energy usage verified by a licensed professional in the first year and prior to each third benchmarking deadline thereafter.
•Poor energy efficiency scores could stigmatize properties at time of sale and result in lower property values.
•Condo fees could rise due to additional responsibilities upon associations to report, and could also include the requirement for future retrofitting and upgrades to meet City standards or goals.


The proposed ELEVATOR ORDINANCE AND FINE SCHEDULE 2009. (See below on the evaluation/sprinkler and other life-safety requirements.)

In early 2012, even though some deadlines have been extended to 2015, the city is urging buildings to get those plans in and approved as soon as possible and get the work done. Under half have approved plans.
Porches next?

It's mid July 2013 and the papers report that a state agency will impose tight new rules unless the legislature in some way acts by mid August-- these include required retrofitting (as well as new structures) with sprinklers, new alarm systems and more.

July 31, Wednesday, 6-8 pm. Hearing by the Leg. Comm. on Rules and the State Fire Marshall's Office @ Rep. Dunkin on the proposed requirements for condo and buildings for sprinklers etc. HIGHLY IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Roosevelt Univ. auditorium, 430 S. Michigan.

Condo buildings' garbage rebate- only in buildings of 3 and more units (owner-occupied units) that received the rebate Jan 2009- Nov 9, 2011 were said to be eligible, but payments are at least 3 years behind (in mid 2013) and from 2012 the amount goes down to zero over four years.

The following already reflects considerable modification of a proposed city ordinance- and still many buildings are behind submitting for acceptance, let alone completing their work before deadlines.

Elevators could cost locals big $. Ordinance would mandate emergency brakes; could see easing of facade ordinance.

Hyde Park Herald, September 23, 2009. By Sam Cholke

Fifth Ward building owners expressed their irritation at a meeting with the city's buildings commissioner last week over a code change that could mean costly repairs to elevators without an emergency brake. The new code would require hydraulic elevators installed prior to 1972 to have an emergency braking system installed, Buildings Commissioner Richard Monocchio told about 80 people gathered at the South Shore Cultural Center Sept. 14. He said the full repair typically costs $40,000 per elevator.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who organized the meeting, characterized the buildings affected in her ward as mostly 12- to 40-unit buildings: smaller residential structures where an $80,000 repair bill for two elevators could sink a building owner. "This bottom line is it's going to cost them," she said. "I don't care how you draw it out, the economy is bad -- now is not the time."

"Hasn't this city seen enough foreclosures for crying out loud?" said one woman in the audience. "Can't we wait a couple years for the real estate market to back on its feet?"

Of approximately 5,000 of such elevators citywide, there are 106 elevators in Hairston's ward that will need to be inspected, according to a list provided by the city's Department of Buildings. Many of these elevators are on the University of Chicago campus.

Peter Cassel, director of community development for MAC Property Management, one of the largest owners of residential properties in Hyde Park, said MAC might have many elevators affected by the code change. Cassel questioned why the city decided to issue a mandate now if the elevators have been a known issue since 1972 and requested to see a copy of the draft ordinance. He also questioned Monocchio n how other cities had handled the issue.

"Being stewards of public safety, we can't wait until something bad happens," Monocchio said. Though few injuries have occurred in Chicago because of these elevators, state inspectors are now finding two to three elevators a week with problems, he said. The Department of Buildings declined to release a draft of the ordinance to the Herald. Monocchio struggled to say why the change was coming now, except that the city was in the process of streamlining the building code to address past oversights and reduce burdensome fees and inspections. "We do more inspections than any other city," he said.

But the meeting wasn't all bad news for residents. Monocchio also said the Department of Buildings would no longer be requiring the expensive every-four-year inspection of building facades. Those at the meeting described it as a crushing expense for buildings just barely over teh 80-foot height limit mandating the inspections. For a 100-foot tall building, costs for just the inspection can cost $25,000 even if no scaffolding needs to be put up, said Erol Altay and architect for Altay Architects that does inspections of terracotta buildings, in a phone interview. If even a minor repair is needed, the cost is tens of thousands of dollars higher because most repairs require scaffolding to be erected, he said.

Starting later in the year, visual inspections from the ground can be submitted if a hands-on exam has been performed in the last two years. Monocchio and others at the meeting said visual inspections typically cost between $2,000 and $4,000.

The city also will be eliminating some of the inspections on heating and cooling systems in "mon and pop" sized businesses, Monocchio said. "No other city does it," he said.

Proposed changes to the exterior wall building code are available on the Department of Buildings Web site, Proposed changes to the elevator building code are currently in the Committee on Buildings in the City Council.




In spring, 2007 Ald. Hairston introduced an ordinance holding up citywide "critical examination" requirements until further review of financial impacts, especially on large buildings, by the commissioner of buildings. The present law requires the exam even if the owner has been diligent and there is no indication of problems.

April 4,2005 Alderman Toni Preckwinkle held the next in a number of meetings in which city reps explain and take comments on the Life and Safety Evaluation/Sprinkler Retrofit ordinance for high rises, passed in December 2004 by City Council. See summary, below. More full description and report coming.
Your bldg. over 80 feet? Did it let slip the April 1 deadline for the Data Sheet of basic info for the Fire Department? Have you started on the Life Safety Evaluation due January 1, 2006?

City site: e-mail

In this page:

Quick summary from the Dept. of Buildings

The City of Chicago's recently enacted (December 15, 2004) Life Safety and High Rise Sprinkler Ordinance will better protect the lives of building occupants in pre-1975 high-rise buildings by requiring enhanced, more stringent and effective safety measures in both residential and commercial high-rise buildings. In addition to requiring sprinklers in most commercial high-rise buildings, the ordinance also requires residential high-rise building owners to submit thorough Life Safety Evaluations to
the City. There are about 16,000 commercial and 6,000 residential buildings over 80 feet in height in Chicago.

Building owners who retain an architect or engineer to complete the Life Safety Evaluation and implement the recommended improvements will help Chicago's commercial and residential high-rise buildings become
safer than ever before. The new requirement of a Life Safety Evaluation concerns buildings that (1) were built prior to 1975, (2) are more than 80 feet in height, (3) are without sprinklers throughout, and (4) are
occupied for non-transient uses - or, (5) is a city-designated landmark high-rise building of any occupancy.

Please view the City of Chicago Department of Buildings Web site, for more information about the Life Safety and High Rise Sprinkler Ordinance.

By-the-way: Don't think there will be no new responsibilities for lower-height buildings or detached homes. Some have been enacted some time ago, like detectors, others are in the pipeline.

Alderman updates building fire codes

Hyde Park Herald, March 30, 2005. By Jeremy Adragna

It has been more than a year since local lawmaker discussed publicly the possibility the city may require high-rise tenants to retrofit t heir homes with sprinkler systems--the cost of which could send residents of East Hyde Park's many high-rises packing to avoid paying as much as $20 per-square-foot to do so. [Note-this figure is vigorously disputed by some.]

This week Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) kicked off a series of community meetings in which se planned to discuss legislation recently passed in City Council called the Life Safety Evaluation ordinance. The ordinance will impact all buildings eight stories or taller, according to Preckwinkle's office.

Following an October 2003 fire in the downtown Cook County Administration building that killed six, including Hyde Parker Janet Johnson Grant, many aldermen and Mayor Richard M. Daley looked to revamp the city's archaic building code. By January 2004, Preckwinkle and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) met with Hyde Parkers to inform them of two proposed ordinances introduced to City Council that would require sprinklers to be retrofitted in all high-rise apartments as early as 2008. Many residents considered this timeline unattainable.

Committee hearings dragged on for months at City Hall. In July, a county panel headed by former federal judge and Hyde Parker Abner Mikva finally produce an investigative report into the fire recommending the installation of sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, but did not recommend they be retrofitted in residential high-rises. "The Chicago Building Code in effect at the time of the fire did not provide adequate life safety in high-rise buildings," the report reads. "The six deaths and serious injuries that occurred in the fire would not have occurred if the building had been equipped with fire sprinklers."

In August, the state stepped into the fray by requiring all student-occupied dormitories to be retrofitted with sprinklers. [Note- state law has long required retrofit of all high-rises.] University of Chicago officials estimated they would eventually spend $5 million to install sprinklers on the 1,300 beds...

[continued April 6:]

Friday, April 1 was the final day to file the newly required "Life Safety Data Sheet," for high-rise buildings taller than eight stories. The sheet is designed to be a reference for firefighters, in case of emergency, to brief themselves of particular fire safety tools in place in every building in Chicago.

All high rises built before 1975 must now be equipped with certain fire prevention tools outlined in a city ordinance passed in December, like two-way communication systems by 2010...

Commercial high-rises are the only buildings which are required under the new code to install sprinkler systems. those are due by 2017 on a graduated cycle. Every building not required to install sprinklers must be inspected by a license architect to determine what larger fir safety measures need to be updated like certain elevator mechanisms an fire-rated walls. The inspection is separate from the data sheet and must be performed by Jan. 1, 2006. Improvements must then be completed by 2012.

....Alderman Preckwinkle said, "You have to look at t he situation and say 'what can we do to try to push people to be sure that their buildings are safe and that people have adequate protection within their units and have opportunities to leave in case of an emergency.'"...



December 15 City Council passed an ordinance mandating sprinklers in all tall commercial buildings within 12 years and an inspection and improvements for residential. Is this the end? Is it enough?

December, 2004, just after the devastating La Salle Bank (Field Bldg.) fire, City Council approved the Bernard Stone ordinance giving commercial structures 12 years to retrofit sprinklers but exempts old residential structures from retrofit. Not certain whether passed was the part that requires in these residential buildings installation of a 2-way communication system, a life-safety evaluation, and hefty fines. Alderman Hairston is on record as preferring a funded system of rebates for work done in buildings.

As of July, 2004, A compromise substitute ordinance by Alderman Bernard Stone had been expected gain general support, replacing the Burke and city proposed ordinances calling for retrofit of high rises (over 8 stories) as early as 2008. The Stone proposal would exempt non-transient (non-hotel) residential buildings including historic, historic-district, and red and orange historic survey properties while keeping most other proposed requirements and (add?) a communications center accessible to each floor. A hearing is expected by fall.

Meanwhile, the state has enacted a law requiring all university dorm space to be retrofitted by 2013. UC and IIT already have been doing so. IIT is expected to use a state low-interest loan program.

A provocative remark, by John Buri of IIT, related to the new statute on dorms, "It's just a matter of time, It's a good thing to do anyway. Nothing good is going to come out of [a fire]. Even if everyone does get out safely, what we want to do is take care of it before anything happens. Smoke detectors save lives. Sprinklers save property. If you have a choice, make it a smoke detector. Sprinklers are good if you ar a property owner."

Note also that the Fire Department, as first shown in the LaSalle St. fire, now does sweeps to make sure all are out before it starts to fight the fire and fill stairwells with equipment.

Mikva Commission Report on the County Building fire, only called for retrofit of commercial buildings by a "firm but attainable deadline." On July 15, 2004 Mayor Daley took a very cautious approach concerning what changes might be made in light of the Mikva report. The County and Witt reports on the County fire call for retrofit; so does Governor Blagojevich

Two retrofit proposals were in play, by the Mayor (Actually the Life and Safety --see the Bldg. Dept. website including John Robertson's cover letter) and by Ald. Burke. Ald. Hairston and Preckwinkle believed both add a huge cost burden, threatened viability of buildings and neighborhoods, and added only marginal safety for owners, residents and occupants.

The major difference between the two proposals was that the Mayor's provides an alternative program to sprinkler retrofit by qualifying structures and exempts (only) transient hotels. Burke's exempted part of Landmarked structures. But the differences are really much more complex, as are the pro and con cases, with wild differences in cost estimates. Note that some misinformation about the Mayor's proposal was given January 12--it was really tougher. A key element is that few if any provisions for rebates or incentives have been passed at any government level and grand fathering doubtful. Fines under any ordinance will likely be hefty. Plans may still have to be filed as soon as late 2005 and work done by 2008 or 2009. Note that the insurance industry may trump all by making retrofit a condition for insurance. Strongest discussion at the hearings was on impacts on commercial structures.


What's in the ordinance, what is expected and its timetable

The following is the presentation (with some added comments by the presenter) of the city to a meeting April 4, 2005 convened by Alderman Preckwinkle. Attendees had many questions, a few were upset that buildings were to pay for the inspection due by the end of the year and that the inspections were being done by private architectural firms rather than city employees. The presenter stressed that the cost is an order of magnitude lower than the facade inspection and the requirements are really for basic essentials including especially effective emergency response. Some large building residents told how they have researched and gotten a leg up on this and not at high cost.

Summary of the Ordinance:

Life Safety Data Sheet (due April 1, 2005)

Voice Communication Systems

Retrofit fire protection systems

What is a Smokeproof Tower and Fire Shield [technical-see website]

Fire Resistance Rating Requirements

Life Safety Evaluations

Stairwell door unlocking

How to select a design professional



Further background


The following meeting call and community alert was issued jointly by Alderman Leslie A. Hairston (5th) and Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) in December, 2003.

The meeting was held Monday, January 12, 2004

Dear 4th and 5th Ward residents:

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and I are writing to inform you we will hold a joint community meeting to discuss a proposed amendment to the city's fire code. The new ordinance calls for all apartment buildings in the City of Chicago built in the City of Chicago built before 1975 and more than 80 feet tall to install automatic fire sprinklers.

If passed, the ordinance will require building owners, at their own expense, to present plans to retrofit existing structures by the beginning of 2005 and the completion of the first third of work on new sprinkler systems in each building by the start of 2008.

As your Aldermen, we are very concerned about the potential costs this ordinance, if passed, will have on our constituency. We are cognizant of the fact that many of your buildings have recently completed your facade critical examinations at substantial expense. We do not want to support sweeping and cost prohibitive legislation.

Your input on this matter is encouraged. The meeting will be held Monday, January 12, 2004 at the Hyde Park Neighborhood club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave. at 6:30 p.m. Please call 773-324-5555 or 773 536-8103 for more information.

Leslie A. Hairston, Alderman, Fifth Ward
Toni Preckwinkle, Alderman, Fourth Ward


Herald Letter by Ald. Hairston (5th) and Preckwinkle (4th)

Homeowners may buckle under fire safety plan

Hyde Park Herald, January 4, 2004

In the wake of the tragic fire in the office building at 69 W. Washington Blvd., one of our colleagues in the City Council has proposed an ordinance, which if passed, will require the installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system in every building 80-feet-tall or taller in the city of Chicago.

We oppose this ordinance because we feel it imposes an unfair and onerous financial burden on high rise condominium and building owners while offering very limited benefit.

The deaths caused by the fire at 69 W. Washington Blvd. ar still under investigation and there are several contributing factors. While no one denies that the additional safeguard of a sprinkler system could have saved lives in this instance, we cannot lose sight of the more basic fact that the city currently maintains a rigorous fire code that more than adequately protects the city's high rise dwellers and that many of t he buildings in the Fourth and Fifth Wards already meet or exceed current fire and building code requirements.

The proposed ordinance will have at best only a symbolic impact on improving fire safety in the city. Though high in profile, high-rise apartments make up only a tiny fraction of the city's housing stock. The vast majority of fires occur in buildings six-stories tall or less.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), a national fire safety research organization, annually more than 90 percent of residential apartment fires and 93 percent of the deaths associated with them occurred in apartment building less than seven stories tall. Further, 87 percent of all fires and nearly 90 percent of the deaths occurred in apartment buildings less than five stories tall.

While speaking to the fears attached to the spectacular images of flames billowing out of the windows seen on the nightly news, this ordinance completely misses the mark, failing to even passingly address the needs of an overwhelming majority of the city's residents.

Furthermore, the proposed ordinance will impose tremendous costs on affected building and condominium owners.

One condominium building in East Hyde Park has projected the cost of a sprinkler retrofit at between $3 and $4 million- an expense of $25,000 to $80,000 per unit. According to NFPA, the total cost associated with these fire annually adds up to only about $30 million nationwide. This latest expense would arrive close on the heels of 2002's facade inspection ordinance, which forced the management of that same east Hyde Park building to perform a $2 million inspection of the building's entire facade at a cost of $20,000 to $50,000 per unit.

The impact of the new ordinance will not be limited to high-income renters and owners. In order to afford to upgrade, affordable housing owners will have to get additional subsidies from the city or state, which in this economic climate will likely not be forthcoming.

Middle- and low-income renters in the city will likely be keenly affected as the building owners, through their management companies are forced to pass the sprinkler expense on to tenants by raising rents, putting off building maintenance or simply removing the units from the housing market entirely.

This escalating series of expenses can only serve to further reduce the already dwindling supply of affordable housing in the city by pricing high-rise housing stock out of the reach of many current and potential residents and reducing the overall number of affordable units in the city.

We will be hosting a joint community meeting to address these concerns Monday, January 12, 2004 at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 South Kenwood Ave. at 6:30 p.m. We urge all concerned residents to attend. For more information, call 324-5555 or 536-8103.


Report on the January 12 meeting and proposals, appeal to residents/owners

FROM: David Guyer, President, a Hyde Park condominium building Board of Directors and member of the Board of Directors, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference. Modified from updates compliments of the author.

SUBJECT: Meeting summary—sprinkler ordinance

DATE: 13 January 2004

Here is a brief summary of the community meeting held Monday evening at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club on the proposed high-rise sprinkler retrofit ordinance. There are currently two ordinances—one proposed by Alderman Edward Burke (14); the other proposed by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. No exemptions for residential buildings of any type
· Retrofit to be completed by January 2008. Allows for hardship appeal but only grants a time extension, not a waiver of the requirements under the ordinance
· Fines of $500.00 to $10,000 per day for failure to comply with the ordinance
· Portions of buildings that are landmarked are exempt from the ordinance

· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. Exempts “transient” residential buildings only
· Retrofit completed by December 2009. No information provided on hardship appeals
· No information available on fines
· Landmarked buildings have no exemptions from the ordinance
· Contains an alternative for the requirement of a sprinkler retrofit. Allows for a “fire safety evaluation” of buildings, whereby they are rated on a point system conducted by a licensed architectural engineer (similar to the critical examination). Results of that evaluation will determine what a building will be required to do. Not as costly as a sprinkler retrofit, although a sprinkler retrofit could be required as a result of this inspection if certain standards are not met.

A representative of the Chicagoland Apartment Association stated that their preliminary research indicates that a complete sprinkler retrofit of the Narraganset Condominium would cost $20.00 per square foot (not just the sprinkler installation, but including all the ancillary components—plastering, environmental remediation, and the like) and would cost several million dollars. (The Narraganset, the Powhatan in Hyde Park and other buildings were included as "examples” in a packet of various building retrofit costs.) I urge owners and residents to attend the series of meetings to be held by the Committee on Buildings of the Chicago City Council. The first of this series of three will be at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, 16 January 2004 in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 121 North La Salle Street. There will be an opportunity for public comment at this meeting.

I have also enclosed a timetable for consideration of this ordinance by the Chicago City Council. As you can readily see the current proposal calls for action by the City Council in March 2004.

A petition drive has been undertaken in certain buildings—and by all means attend any meetings you can. The City Council responds to this type of citizen action!



High-rise dwellers claim sprinkler proposal all wet

Hyde Park Herald, January 21, 2004. By Jeremy Adragna

When Lee and Michael Behnke moved to Hyde Park and into the historic Jackson Park Tower apartments six years ago, they did not expect to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for renovations requested by the city. The couple moved from Boston in 1998 to begin careers at the University of Chicago, but say they have considered moving back because of expensive demands the city has made in recent years on high-rise dwellers.

Now a pair of recently proposed city ordinances would stick high-rise residents with the substantial cost of retro-fitting their buildings with automatic sprinkler systems. When Lee Behnke heard the clamor from her neighbors about the possible renovation she thought, "Let's go back to Boston. I love Chicago, but how much of this can you take?"

Both ordinances, one authored by Mayor Richard M. Daley and the other by 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, would require the owners of buildings taller than eight stories, with some exceptions, to install sprinkler systems, regardless of cost, by a early as 2008.

Costs have been estimated by th Chicagoland Apartment Association at $20 per square foot, although some, including Mayor Daley in a similar 1999 push for sprinkler systems, have made much lower estimates. Residents of the 15-story Jackson Tower apartments, overlooking the Museum of Science and Industry, could be forced to pay as much as $60,000 each to install the sprinklers. The Behnkes say they were hit with a $40,000 price tag as part of Jackson Tower's facade rehab which started two years ago--stemming from a 1996 ordinance mandating crumbling high-rise facades be annually inspected.

"Those on a fixed income can't ever pay for the facade," Michael Behnke said. "The thought of another major requirement could price people right out of the market."

Fifth Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston and 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle met with area residents at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club... in a first-of-its-kind meeting last week to inform them of the proposals and to hear concerns about the high costs.

"This proposed ordinance would have a dramatic effect on your pocketbook," Preckwinkle told a crowd of nearly150 homeowners. Hairston encouraged residents to attend the public hearings to voice their concerns--the one thing, she says, City Council listens to.

"It's a long way from passage right now," Ald Hairston said. "I do not support Alderman Burke's proposal....he has no high-rises in his ward. The bottom line is that it's there and this is what we have to deal with."

Lee Behnke, who is a member of Jackson Tower's board of residents, says she and other residents may look to avoid the cost altogether by applying for for landmark designation--one of the loopholes in Daley's proposal [sic-it is not]. But that process could take up to two years.

But many across Hyde Park are not as lucky. Lease-holders and multiple-building owners such as the University of Chicago could be forced to take the full brunt of the retrofit cost--likely spiraling into millions of dollars. The cost could also send renters packing if owners look to defray the high costs by passing them to tenants--sending rents through the roof.

The new citywide regulations have been proposed on the heels of an October fire in the Cook County Administration building, 69 W. Washington Ave., that killed six, including Hyde Parker Janet Johnson Grant.

The ordinance are still being discussed in City Council committee and several public hearings will be held in coming weeks before the matter is brought before City Council.


Summary of the January 16 City Council Buildings Comm. hrg.

Here is a brief summary of the Committee on Buildings public hearing held 16 January 2004 in the City Council Chambers regarding the proposed “Life Safety Evaluation System” prepared for the City of Chicago, Department on Construction and Permits, and the Chicago Fire Department. As I indicated previously, there are two ordinances under consideration—one proposed by Alderman Edward Burke (14); the other proposed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, presented by John A. Roberson, Executive Director of the Department of Construction and Permits (copy enclosed).

At the conclusion of a presentation made by Roberson and the consultant group, Alderman Hairston and other members of the Committee (Alderman Preckwinkle is not on this particular committee) expressed concerns that the proposal was hastily drafted, and questioned why no one from the Fire Department was present at the Committee meeting to answer questions about it. Alderman Hairston also expressed concerns about buildings with historic architectural features, which are not exempt from the requirements of these proposals, contrary to what was initially conveyed at the meeting held at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. (I also raised this issue when I gave testimony, as did Ed Garrett, president of the Jackson Park Towers Condominium Association, and several other speakers from condominium associations on the North Side. At this juncture we do not know what changes, if any, are going to be made to this evaluative system.)

With the exception of one speaker from the public, all those who spoke were opposed to any further mandates like those proposed. Four individuals from the sprinkler industry spoke to the Committee, providing testimony relative to the desirability of having sprinkler systems and providing statistics on installation costs, which were refuted by others during the course of the public testimony. For example, the costs quoted for sprinkler retrofits by the industry representatives were costs for exposed bare pipe installation only, and did not include other costly factors like the installation of soffits, re-plastering, drilling or jack hammering through walls, or other costs associated with a retrofit in older buildings like the Narragansett.

There are also several pieces of legislation at the local, state, and national level that propose tax breaks for sprinkler installation, but no details were provided.

There will be two additional public hearings:
Wednesday, 28 January 2004
10:00 a.m.
City Council Chambers

Friday, 6 February 2004
10:00 a.m.
City Council Chambers

· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. No exemptions for residential buildings of any type
· Retrofit to be completed by January 2008. Allows for hardship appeal but only grants a time extension, not a waiver of the requirements under the ordinance
· Fines of $500.00 to $10,000 per day for failure to comply with the ordinance· Portions of buildings that are landmarked are exempt from the ordinance

· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. Exempts “transient” residential buildings
· Does not exempt landmarked buildings
· Requires a “Life Safety Evaluation” (LSE) to be performed by a licensed professional engineer or a licensed architect, which is submitted to the Department of Construction and Permits
· Submitted no later than 1 January 2005; plan fully implemented by 31 December 2009. No information given on hardship appeals
· If full automatic sprinkler protection is provided by the owner, a 12-year installation schedule may be employed
· Three evaluative criteria which are ranked on a point system: Fire Safety, Means of Egress, and General Safety
· 18 “parameters” used for evaluating and scoring a building (see attached proposal)
· There are minimum “passing” scores for residential buildings (all scores based on a building that is “not fully sprinklered”): Fire Safety, 33; Means of Egress, 37; and General Safety, 37
· No information provided on fines
· Other options briefly mentioned but no details provided regarding a building that does not meet the evaluative criteria

A representative of the Chicagoland Apartment Association stated that their preliminary research indicates that a complete sprinkler retrofit of the Narragansett Condominium would cost $20.00 per square foot (not just the sprinkler installation, but including all the ancillary components—plastering, environmental remediation, and the like) and would cost several million dollars. (The Narragansett was part of an “examples” packet of various building retrofit costs that was handed out by Alderman Hairston at the meeting. The Powhatan and several other buildings were also given as examples.)


A different view and analysis

Note, the January 12th meeting was promoted by HPKCC through, among other means, a letter from Aldermen Hairston and Preckwinkle placed in this website page and sent as a service in HPKCC membership renewal notices. HPKCC did not participate in calling or running the meeting. Gary Ossewaarde

To HPKCC from Leonardo Herzenberg, resident

I am an owner in [a Hyde Park high-rise] Condo building, a former board member, and currently chair of the Maintenance and Operations committee however, in writing this message I speak only for myself, not as a representative of [my building]. Also, unlike many building owners, I welcome city codes regarding safety issues. The good side of code requirements is that they encourage people with good intentions to get moving on implementation. The bad side is that many owners take the approach "if it meets present code we need not do anything," even in the face of imminent hazards. In [my building] evidence was gradually accumulating that spalling concrete from the facade (I once found a piece on the ground in a
location that I walk over almost every day). The need to do something was widely acknowledged, but no action was taken until the most recent Facade Inspection and Repair ordinance was imminent.

On the issue of sprinklers, the proposed new ordinance may seem draconian, and has caused panic in Hyde Park, among other areas with high rise Buildings, but it has also encouraged discussion of the issue. Your sponsorship* of the January 12 meeting has certainly led to much discussion. At the end of that meeting my initial thought was that this must be a lobbying effort by the sprinkler manufacturers, but on further thought, questions came to mind. How were the costs presented estimated? Did anyone involved in producing the estimates have a financial stake in the outcome?

Some of the discussion involved bad statistics. The fact that many more people in Chicago die in low rise fires that in high rise fires was presented as evidence that high rise buildings are inherently fire safe. Of course, it proves nothing of the sort unless the number of housing units in the city in each category were identical. Only the death rate per unit of housing, compared by type of construction, would say anything about inherent fire safety.

Then the much used cliche about the "poor people on fixed incomes" was bandied about. This cliche originated a long time ago when pensioners did indeed have low, fixed, incomes compared to people working good jobs with overtime and advancement prospects. Today people on fixed incomes, including myself, should consider themselves lucky. I know about special assessments - we had one here for the Facade work.

I reviewed the HPKCC website, and had some e-mail correspondence ..., hoping to find more detail on the testimony at the Jan 16 meeting [at City Hall], but all I could find was a summary from their point of view. The January 16 meeting made it clear to me that a lot more information, both technical and financial, including comparisons of expected costs with value of the assets in question was needed. One of the major agenda items in this meeting was presentations by four witnesses invited by Alderman Burke. Between some hearing difficulty and poor note taking skills I did not retain as much of the testimony as I would have liked. I very much would like to obtain a transcript of the testimony, but my impressions follow:

1. A police officer, board member of high rise condo that experienced two lethal fires, has been pushing for sprinklers with no success. Claims that a 25 year bank loan can be obtained easily (I'd like to find out how). Has purchased smoke hoods (providing one hour of air supply) for his unit, recommends them as an important personal line of defense, like local
extinguishers. Is firmly convinced that sprinklers are a necessary element in fire safety.

2. Consultant for sprinkler business association. Importance of sprinklers:
2.1 Limits damage by preventing spread (restricts fire to place of origin).
2.2 Reduces energy content of fire.
2.3 Prevents propagation of toxic fumes.

There is also the issue of insurance. The way insurance costs are exploding, while ability to obtain insurance is crashing, soon a sprinkler system will be a prerequisite for insurance.

3. Contractor in the sprinkler business. For a building that already meets city requirements for standpipes, these may provide the vertical infrastructure for a sprinkler system. If so, cost per square foot drops to $2-3. How many of the building[s] affect[ed] by the ordinance do not have standpipes? How much of the final cost is due to repair/replacement of
decorative features?

4. History of automatic sprinkler systems. Some of the testimony reviewed regulations on sprinklers in other places,
including New York. With typical Chicago parochialisms this was greeted with "This is Chicago. Don't bother me about New York." Keep in mind that Manhattan probably has some of the highest density of living units in skyscrapers of any place in the world, and their experience on fire safety in these buildings could be a useful guide.

One final note: although I often disagree with what Alderman Burke proposes, I was very impressed with his legislative skill, both in lining up excellent witnesses for his cause, and in dealing with opposition witnesses who had not done their homework.


Changes to sprinkler code proposal could cut costs

[Ed. See the following report for more detail and qualifiers/critiques of ideas presented at the Jan. 28 hearing.]

Hyde Park Herald, February 4, 2004. By Jeremy Adragna

In the second of three public hearings on proposed amendments to the city's fire code held last week in City Council, construction experts submitted opinions on the feasibility of retrofitting chicago high-rises with sprinkler systems, some saying the cost would be lower than initially predicted.

the pair of ordinances proposed by Mayor Richard M. Daley and 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke would mandate all buildings taller than 80 feet retrofit sprinkler systems. The proposals have sparked outrage from Hyde Park high-rise dwellers who say costs would be prohibitive...and Hyde Park aldermen say they are considering adding amendments to the ordinances.

Officials from the Building Owners and Manager Association (BOMA) of Chicago submitted findings that put the cost of retrofitting residential buildings taller than 80 feet at $10 per square foot. At a meeting held at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5355 S. Kenwood Ave., on Jan. 12 the Chicagoland Apartment Association made estimates upwards of $20 per square foot.

BOMA also recommended at the council hearing that the ordinance offer finance and tax incentives for the retrofits as well as extend the time period for compliance from 12 years to 20 years.

Ron Webb, spokesman for the Electrical Contractors Association, also suggested a provision that would allow building occupants to cut construction costs by leaving wires bare opposed to covered with metal conduit. ...

Report on the January 28 hearing

Submitted by Leo Herzenberg to HPKCC
Sent: Saturday, January 31, 2004 9:30 PM
Subject: January 28 Chicago Building committee public hearing

I want to share my experience of the part of the meeting I managed to attend:

There were a lot fewer people at this one than at the January 16 meeting, and the atmosphere seemed more relaxed. Leslie Hairston was excellent in forcing witnesses to explain the technical terms they were so glibly throwing about. I am sure that many in the audience, including other aldermen who might have been afraid to ask, benefited.

1. Witness speaking very convincingly about the hazard of cables not enclosed in metal in plenum spaces producing toxic fumes in a fire due to the common use of PVC and fluorine based plastics for cable insulation. PVC will produce hydrogen chloride, and Fluorine based will produce hydrogen fluoride when heated in a fire. Implication that if this is allowed, then fires must be controlled by sprinklers.

2. Representative of a company that sells metal pipe for sprinkler systems implied that PVC products were not safe, but in response to Alderman Stone's questioning would not state that they were not safe.

3. Officer in fire department, and engineer in department, spoke on inspections. Hairston asked for detailed descriptions of a typical inspection. In the course of this discussion it sounded as if inspection standards for residential properties are weaker than those for commercial properties. They were questioned on fire death statistics for various types of structures but did not have ready answers. Would provide them for the next meeting. I would think that if anyone has such data ready at hand it would be the insurance companies....

4. Man with long experience in various positions in fire prevention (don't remember his current position) spoke of the need for sprinklers as the only way to prevent casualties due to toxic gases. Described infamous hotel fire in Florida where people many stories removed from the fire were killed by toxic fumes. Stated that a court had decided they were liable in spite of being totally code compliant. Predicted that if not now, then soon, insurance would not be available without sprinklers. Stated that the city safety evaluation process as an alternative to sprinklers was a "sprinkler avoidance" ordinance that did not meet standards of nationally accepted evaluation protocols (published by the NFPA - National Fire Protection Association.) Their web site offers a huge catalog of information for sale, but very little free information. Spoke
glowingly of new laws, proposed if not yet enacted, that would allow fast depreciation of sprinkler installation costs. Great for a commercial building - don't know how it would help condos.

5. Representative of BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) started a power point recital of their great mom and apple pie support of all good things. Time for lunch.

The Burke sprinkler steam roller seems to be moving full power forward. Believable statistics pro or con, and realistic cost estimates, are still missing.


Comments on the Feb. 6, 2004 meeting
of the City Council Building Committee meeting

Submitted by Leonardo Herzenberg 2/10/2004

The main topic of discussion was the Proposed Life Safety Ordinance.

The initial witnesses discussed material used for wiring of Fire Protection Systems. The proposed ordinance would allow such wiring to be installed without metal conduit protection, if the fire supervisory system could detect wire failures and set off alarms in response. Much of the testimony concerned the reduced flammability of new materials based on fluorine based polymers as opposed to PVC (vinyl based). The witnesses insisted that there were substantial cost savings using the new material versus conduit. Ald. Hairston attempted to get these costs quantified. The best that the witness could come up with was that in a hypothetical hallway where the conduit version would cost $3000 against $2000 for no conduit. Another alderman pointed out that this alone seemed a poor tradeoff for reduced safety, but as part of the total cost of an improved safety system would be insignificant.

The witness from Underwriter Laboratories gave a convincing presentation of the benefits of FEP against PVC in flammability and cable damage from heat characteristics. Then Ald. Stone asked about toxicity of of combustion products. She said that UL does not have standards for that, but that in any event this material was no worse than other materials permitted in plenums. Ald Stone then asked about mechanical damage, and the damage detection issue was again mentioned.

Next a witness from the Chicago Electric Code working group, a former fire inspector I believe, made the earlier witnesses look like fools. He emphasized that fire protection systems must not only be available when a fire occurs, but must survive the fire and the fire fighting process. He showed samples of various kinds of wire under discussion, including one of the wire that is now required for these systems,installed in conduit, which does not burn - it turns into ceramic with enough heat.

He spoke from his own experience that one of the first things a firefighter does when presented with a false ceiling suspected of hiding fire is to pull it down, along with any wiring inside. There goes your fire protection wiring. He showed photos of plenum spaces (area between ceiling and floor above) totally congested with assorted cables. These spaces are regularly visited by people doing communication and data wiring who may not be well trained and mainly care about getting their wire in place. Regarding supervisory systems that set off alarms about wire damage, he again spoke from his own experience, inspecting a building and seeing a light flashing on the supervisory panel. Building people explained that it showed a problem with the wiring. Why was no alarm sounding? It had been turned off because the problem was not getting fixed. A great example of systems that look good on paper, but are totally dependent on a dedicated maintenance staff with the resources to do their job.

This witness also commented regarding there being no standards for toxicity at UL. He pointed out that the standard, or baseline material for toxicity comparisons is red oak. Its toxic emissions are defined as 1, anything worse gets a higher number. PVC is much worse (I remember a number between 2.5 and 4), and FEP is worse yet when it gets hot enough, above 5.

A witness who testified on the toxic hazards of PVC, etc at the Jan 28 meeting returned to emphasize the point.

Apparently running low voltage cables in some ducts and plenums has been accepted for some time, but the original standards did not envisage the huge quantities of cable that would be installed to satisfy the needs of data comm.

This brings me to a disturbing realization: If I understood some of the testimony, there are some cases in which flammable materials that emit toxic fumes in fires can be installed in air spaces that are part of a building ventilation system!

This meeting did not have sprinklers on the agenda, but some of the discussion led me to ask myself what kind of fires are sprinklers good for? A witness at the Jan 16 meeting mentioned an overstuffed chair fire. A couch or bed would be other good examples. But what about electrical fires? The tragic fire that led to these meetings was initially described as starting with an electrical fire originating in a ceiling mounted light fixture. Would a sprinkler have detected the heat in time to do any good? Also, we are told all our lives that electrical fires must not be fought with water. Are sprinklers an exception to this rule? Another question: how often do sprinklers open when there is no fire? Is the resulting damage covered by typical insurance policies?

In addition to better statistics on deaths per housing unit for different types of construction, more information on the reliability of sprinkler systems in extinguishing various types of fires, and on the origin of fires, is needed.


Schedule of committee hearings, vote on the ordinances

Hearings will be held by the Chicago City Council Committee on Buildings (Chair Bernard L. Stone) in January and February concerning an Ordinance on "High Rise Safety and High Rise Sprinkler."

All are at 10 am in City Council Chambers, Room 200 (2nd floor), City Hall,121 N. LaSalle Street.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Friday, February 6, 2004

Copies of the agendas (as there will be other items considered) will be available in the office of the chairman of the of the Committee on Buildings, Room 203, City Hall, 3 days prior to each meeting.

Text of High Rise Building Safety Ordinance is in the City of Chicago Department of Construction and Permits website ( : "Building Code regarding life safety requirements." This writer could not locate a Dept. of Constr and Permits, either on the homepage or in Department of Buildings.

Text of the Life Safety Code is in the Mayor's Office Homepage in the City's Website: "Building Code regarding life safety requirements." This is easy to find:, in homepage click Building Code Life and Safety requirements. Summaries and chapter by chapter, in pdf.

To send comments to the Committee (tel. 312 744-6855):

Alderman Bernard Stone, Buildings Committee Chairman
121 N. LaSalle St.
Room 203, Office 15
Chicago, IL 60602


Fabio Grego
Department of Constructions and Permits
City Hall, Room 900
121 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60602

High-Rise Building Safety Ordinance Timetable

Life Safety Code consideration Timetable (only partially about the sprinkler ordinance)


At a Glance: Comparison of the rival High Rise Building Safety Ordinance

· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. No exemptions for residential buildings of any type

· Retrofit to be completed by January 2008. Allows for hardship appeal but only grants a time extension, not a waiver of the requirements under the ordinance

· Fines of $500.00 to $10,000 per day for failure to comply with the ordinance

· Portions of buildings that are landmarked are exempt from the ordinance
· All buildings greater than 80 feet in height and built before 1975. Exempts "transient” residential buildings only

· Retrofit completed by December 2009. No information provided on hardship appeals

· No information available on fines

· Landmarked buildings have no exemptions from the ordinance

· Contains what looked like an alternative for the requirement of a sprinkler retrofit-but on second look this is a required evaluation, not a set of loopholes, and seems to require further clarification. Requires a “fire safety evaluation” of buildings, whereby they are rated on a point system conducted by a licensed architectural engineer (similar to the critical examination). Results of that evaluation will determine what a building will be required to do. Note that a sprinkler retrofit could be required as a result of this inspection if certain standards are not met.