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150 County Workers Go Back to Loop Fire Building

Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times
by Kate N. Grossman

Up to 150 Cook County workers will return for the first time todayto their offices at 69 W. Washington, the site of the October fire where six people died.

They are the first to return to the building. They work on floors 30 to 35, which does not include offices where workers were killed.

The group was to return Tuesday but was delayed at the last minute after Cook County President John Stroger took the unusual step of requesting in writing that the floors had passed fire and building code inspections.

The city Department of Buildings and the Fire Department found no violations during inspections in the last week but the information was relayed verbally. The departments rejected Stroger's request, saying it was not standard procedure.

"The county asked for some kind of [written] verification from buildings and fire, but the Law Department doesn't think it's appropriate for either to deviate from their usual procedures," said Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle. "If we do it once, we're establishing a policy for the future. It is unnecessary."

After learning a written statement wasn't required, Stroger backed down Tuesday.

"He's comfortable moving back in with a verbal OK,'' said Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik.

Employees from four county offices -- capital planning, facilities management, the state's attorney and the chief judge -- will move in between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. That includes Stroger's office. The next group, floors one through six, are scheduled to return next week. The rest of the employees will return in phases over the next six months as sprinklers are installed on each floor.

The county also has unlocked all the hallways. The victims died after being trapped in smoke-filled hallways by doors that automatically locked. Eventually an automatic unlocking system will be installed.

There are no sprinklers on floors 30 to 35, but they will be installed by summer. Stancik said the group is returning without the sprinklers because of "an immense desire to move back in." The law does not require sprinklers at this time.

Some 2,500 government employees work in the county-owned building. The Fire Department inspected floors 30 to 35 and the building department inspected the entire high-rise.

Chicago Tribune
By Mickey Ciokajlo
December 31, 2003

The first Cook County employees are scheduled to return to work at 69 W. Washington St. Wednesday, one day after County Board President John Stroger delayed the move while asking the city for written assurance that the building met code requirements.

Stroger, who has an executive office on the 35th floor, the building's highest occupied level, plans to lead the return to the building where six workers died in a fire Oct. 17.

The move had been scheduled Tuesday, but Stroger called it off after the city declined to write a letter saying the building had passed inspections by the Fire and Buildings Departments.

City officials reiterated Tuesday that they don't put in writing that a building has passed an inspection. Fire Commissioner James Joyce told Stroger that Tuesday.

"The president spoke with Commissioner Joyce and was assured that letters of this nature are not issued, so the decision was made to move back into the building," said Caryn Stancik, Stroger's spokeswoman.

Stroger's staff received the same information from the Department of Buildings. The city's Law Department backed up the position of the other departments, a spokeswoman said.

"We did not deem it appropriate for them to deviate from their normal procedures in this case," Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said.

City officials had said Monday that nothing prevented the county from reoccupying floors 30 through 35, which is the plan for Wednesday and Friday.

In a letter to the county Oct. 20, the Department of Buildings said it required confirmation in three safety areas.

According to the letter, the city wanted confirmation that the building was structurally sound and that there were no problems with the exterior facade, "including safety of window mountings, directly attributable to the fire."

Finally, the city wanted an environmental consultant to confirm that no hazardous chemicals or pathogens were in the air as a result of the fire.

Next week, the first six floors are to be reopened, including a day care center on two floors.

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