SOUTH BEND -- The owner of a west-side building housing 190 migrant workers has agreed to hire fire watchmen to monitor the property 24 hours a day.
The agreement settles city officials' concerns that the former nursing home at 5024 W. Western Ave. doesn't have a fire-sprinkler system.
The watchmen, who must have experience as firefighters or in similar positions, will walk the building's halls and carry a cell phone. If there is any sign of fire, they will call 9-1-1 and make sure residents exit the building.
The property already has 24-hour security, and the building has a smoke-alarm system and fire extinguishers. The city's building code, however, requires buildings used as hotels to have fire sprinklers.
The South Bend Common Council's committee on health and public safety authorized Interim City Attorney Aladean DeRose to finalize the agreement with Geoffrey Polk, the attorney for owner MFC South Bend Holdings LLC, on Tuesday.
The draft agreement also calls for MFC to apply for a hotel-motel license and states that meals for residents will not be prepared in the building's kitchen unless the owner applies for a restaurant license.
Chuck Bulot, the building commissioner for South Bend and St. Joseph County, said the rules are in place for the safety of people who live here.
"All of these things, they seem sort of incidental, but it's very important to make sure that all of the details are taken care of," he said, "and that's why I had concern with this and why I sent immediate notification to the owner about the situation."
Joe Colvin, a local representative for MFC, which is based in Skokie, Ill., told council members Tuesday that the building owner has long-term plans for the former nursing home. Housing migrant workers is a one-time, temporary use that will end no later than Aug. 22, he said.
All of the council members present Tuesday were glad city officials found a solution to avoid vacating the building. The residents are happy there, and police have reported no problems at the site.
"Building code and fire code can be pretty strict in terms of what it says, and the laws that you pass have certain meanings, and we implement those laws as an administration," Mike Schmuhl, chief of staff to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, told council members. "But I think this is a good example of seeing a need in the community to house these people safely, to make sure they have roofs over their heads and they can do the work they're doing for our community in a safe manner. ... I think it's a win-win."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: