Bill on safety worries Greeks

Breanne Gilpatrick

Discussion at Monday night’s Planning and Development Committee meeting of a proposed fire sprinkler ordinance has some fraternity and sorority chapters concerned about who will bear the financial cost of the installations.

The ordinance, which was introduced at Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting and will be voted on Nov. 8, would require dormitories, hospitals, fraternities and sororities, among other buildings, to install fire sprinkler systems within the next five years.

Fraternities and sororities now lease their houses from Northwestern for $1 a year, but individual chapters are responsible for maintenance, renovations and improvements. As a result of these financial restrictions, NU currently is unable to require fire sprinklers in fraternity and sorority houses.

But Peggy Folz, house corporation president for Delta Delta Delta sorority, said several chapters have leases that are up for renewal and are in the process of renegotiating these agreements with NU.

One option for houses would be to return control of maintenance issues to the university. This would mean NU would pay for the installation if the Evanston sprinkler ordinance passed.

Folz said Tri Delt is in the process of installing fire sprinklers in its house at 625 University Place. But the cost of the installation could be a concern for many chapters.

“The general consensus seems to be that (installing sprinklers) is something that we should do for our house,” Folz said. “It’s a matter of raising the funds.”

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said the ordinance would offer the included buildings plenty of time to meet the requirement.

“There’s a five-year period for the university and each individual fraternity and sorority to work this out,” Newman said

But Associated Student Government City Council Liaison Karla Diaz, a Weinberg senior and member of Tri Delt, said some leases won’t need to be renewed for six, seven or eight years and this could require those fraternities and sororities to raise the money themselves.

“My concern is that this is something that’s inevitably going to happen,” Diaz said. “This is something the university should be doing.”

Evanston Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky said the fire department would rather pass an ordinance now than have to pass a “tombstone ordinance” after a major fire.

Berkowsky said the existence of sprinklers in other Evanston buildings has helped control fires. He said at one fire at The Georgian, a retirement hotel at 422 Davis St., fire sprinklers kept occupants from being seriously injured.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said concerns about cost should not be an excuse.

“I think part of what’s going on is the cost of this is causing delay after delay after delay,” Wynne said. “And while that’s happening we’re having fire after fire after fire.”

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected].