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Fire Sprinklers Modernize Sisters of St. Joseph Grounds in La Grange Park

Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park recently completed a fire sprinkler retrofit project — three years ahead of schedule.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have called La Grange Park home since the early 1900s and have been in the buildings of what is now called the Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center since the 1960s. The complex contains four interconnected buildings: a six-story mixed-use building with offices and residences; a single-story common building with cooking, dining, and meeting facilities; a three-story senior living structure; and a large chapel.

In addition, Nazareth Academy, a college preparatory high school founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1900, has also occupied additional buildings on the grounds since 1974, which were originally built in 1910 as the St. Joseph’s Military Academy.

With decades of rich history behind the buildings, however, comes a lot of old building standards. Building codes had never required fire sprinklers when the ministry center and high school buildings were built. Until recently, only a small portion of the Nazareth Academy building was fire sprinklered, mostly due to an addition that was created in the 1990s.

Fire sprinkler retrofitting was completed in four interconnected buildings at the Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center complex in March 2011.

Since the ministry center has become such a mixed-use complex in more recent years, there was no easy way to meet the code requirements for the various types of usage groups throughout the facility. For that reason, Fire Prevention Division Chief John Carpenter and the La Grange Park Fire Department began working with representatives in order to retrofit the ministry center buildings with fire sprinkler protection.

The Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center retrofit project began in November 2010. Project engineer Jim Nayder and site supervisor Mike Miller worked with Chuck Hrebic from Fire Protection Company in Alsip and the La Grange Park Fire Department’s Fire Prevention staff. The age and design of the complex created some difficulties with the retrofit, most notably with the unique design of the chapel, but they were easily overcome due to the cooperative efforts of all parties involved.

Dropped ceilings were present in many of the public areas of the buildings. Working closely with the sprinkler fitters, the maintenance staff was able to prepare areas for the retrofit by removing ceiling tiles ahead of time and then replacing them immediately after work was done. The well-planned installation generated many compliments from building staff that were appreciative of the smooth process. In fact, the streamlined process took no more than half of a year with a completion date in March 2011.

A bird's eye view of the Sisters of St. Joseph grounds.

“There was no better way than fire sprinklers to protect this complex,” says Fire Chief Dean Maggos. “There are a lot of elderly occupants and residents in the complex on a daily basis and fire sprinklers will provide them the needed time to escape should a fire occur. Fire sprinklers will also provide coverage in deep areas of the basement that are difficult for firefighters to access.”

Fire sprinklers also provide protection for the entire Nazareth Academy complex on the grounds as well. When the high school set out to conduct an aggressive addition and renovation plan in 2003, codes required that the entire school be retrofit with fire sprinklers. Since construction was planned over the following ten years as part of a master renovation plan, the fire department staff coordinated with school representatives to come up with a variation to the code requirements and created a ten-year timetable that included phases for the fire sprinkler retrofit. By doing so, the project would be both orderly and economical for the school, while ultimately achieving the code requirement for fire sprinklers.

The timetable required that all new areas of the school and all common areas be fire sprinklered by 2008, and the entire structure school had to be retrofit by 2013. Just as with the Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center, the age and design of the historic school building were challenges, as were the various additions that had been constructed over the decades. However, fire sprinkler contractor Alliance Fire Protection (now United States Alliance Fire Protection), made the final retrofit process easier for faculty and staff by trying to schedule as much installation time as possible outside of regular school hours.

According to Maggos, the fire sprinkler retrofit at Nazareth Academy was completed in 2010, three years ahead of schedule and much to the delight of Village, fire and school officials. He states, “It marked a significant achievement in fire protection for the school and it was done far in advance of the deadline.”

“Many areas of both the Congregation of St. Joseph Ministry Center and Nazareth Academy are old and were built to less restrictive code requirements than would be required today,” adds Maggos. “The installation of fire sprinklers in both sets of buildings on the grounds made great strides in terms of fire safety for both occupants and responding firefighters. Fire sprinklers provide a level of protection that could not be provided otherwise.”

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