Law may require sprinkler system

All of Northwestern’s fraternities and sororities could be forced to install fire sprinklers in their houses if the Evanston Planning and Development Committee passes a new ordinance.

The ordinance would require the installation of sprinklers in various existing buildings including hospitals, hotels, rooming houses, dorms and Greek houses in the next five years.

NU already is in the process of installing fire protection systems in its residence halls, said Danny Hohmeier, construction project manager for Facilities Management. These systems include fire sprinklers connected to controls to notify the fire department. And Hohmeier said the systems should finish being installed in 17 residence halls by the end of this year and should be installed in all university-operated undergraduate and graduate housing in four years.

A proposed Evanston City Council ordinance would be the only law to mandate the installation of sprinklers in Greek housing.

Because most individual chapters hold the leases on their houses, NU cannot require fraternities and sororities to install sprinklers. An Illinois law passed in August requiring all college dorms in the state to install sprinklers by 2013 also excludes Greek housing from the requirement.

Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said a specific ordinance could be introduced by the Planning and Development Committee at the Oct. 25 meeting and could be passed as soon as the first meeting in November. The city has been looking into the possibility of such an ordinance for about two years, Berkowsky said.

Berkowsky said the ordinance would be particularly important for fraternity houses where he said he has often seen fire code violations such as blocked exits and halls, and broken fire alarms. Berkowsky said he doesn’t want to wait until a fire happens in an university building to pass an ordinance.

“What we’re trying to do here is pass the ordinance so we can provide the protection now, so we don’t have to worry about it after the fact,” he said.

Matt Robbins, risk management chairman for Interfraternity Council, said he was in favor of an ordinance that would require fraternities to install fire sprinklers because the risk of fires is increased by old fraternity houses and the possibility of malfunctioning fire alarms.

But Robbins said he could see fraternity and sorority members being concerned about the cost of sprinkler installation and damage to the house if a fire sprinkler goes off unnecessarily.

Chris Nakutis, president of Delta Upsilon, said his fraternity’s house at 2307 Sheridan Rd. already has fire sprinklers installed in the house’s kitchen area. Nakutis’ fraternity is one of several Greek houses that already have sprinklers installed in one or more rooms of the buildings.

He said if the fraternity had to install more sprinklers, the cost and disruption to members who live in the house all year would create problems. Plus, he wonders if installing fire sprinklers is even necessary.

“My house at home doesn’t have a sprinkler system installed in it and a fraternity house is just a big house,” he said.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the ordinance is a necessary safety measure, especially because Greek houses are neither regulated by the state nor the university.

“I think most people who send their children off to Northwestern assume there are some safety precautions in place,” Wynne said.

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected]