Porch collapses at Feinberg students’ apartment; owner charged

A Chicago building owner was cited with two violations of city code Monday after an investigation into a porch collapse at a party hosted by students from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

No one was hurt when the third-floor porch at 3763 N. Wilton Ave. pulled away from the apartment building and partially collapsed Saturday, but the incident was a reminder of a dramatic collapse that killed 13 people in Lincoln Park this summer.

People who were on the porch at 11:45 p.m. heard or felt something before the porch fell about a foot, according to Jack Beary, a spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Buildings. No one was injured.

Residents of the apartment and NU students who attended the party could not be reached Monday.

Inspectors noted problems, such as rotting wood and the lack of a required 3-foot guard rail, with the Wilton Avenue porch during a regular visit June 26, Beary said. At that time, an administrative hearing date was set for Oct. 21.

When inspectors returned on Sept. 23 to see if code violations had been corrected, it appeared that the owner of the building had made repairs. But in an inspection after the porch’s collapse this weekend, city officials discovered that no permit had been secured for the work that was done and that the repairs were substandard, Beary said.

“When our people went out there during the day yesterday, after the collapse, what was apparent was a portion of the structure was bolted to the building like it’s supposed to be,” Beary said.

But Beary said the part of the porch that collapsed was nailed, not bolted, to the building, a violation of city code. The city now is seeking to take the building’s owner to Cook County Circuit Court to address all the porch problems.

“We’re going to ask the judge to number one, order the owner to get a permit for the work that was done,” Beary said. “And number two to get that fixed.”

He said a permit application for the work was filed, but not yet granted.

Early last month Chicago City Council approved new regulations to increase porch safety. The changes included three pre-approved standard porch designs, descriptions of proper porch use to be incorporated into apartment leases and a licensing system for general contractors to hold them accountable for their work.

The changes came in response to a June 29 porch collapse at 713 W. Wrightwood Ave. that injured nearly 60 people and killed 13 others, including Kelly Pagel, 25, who worked at ZS Associates, 1800 Sherman Ave., in Evanston. Pagel reportedly planned to enroll at NU for graduate school this fall.

Several other victims of that collapse attended nearby New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., according to the school’s Web site. Shea Fitzgerald, 19, and Sam Farmer, 21, graduated in 2001 and Julie Sorkin, 25, graduated in 1996.

Although Evanston officials have considered proposals to increase porch safety and regulation, no policy changes have been made.