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Owners of old Post Office hit with code violations after Feb. 17 fire

Chicago firefighters battle rofire old Chicago Post Office building Friday evening. The fire was contained sectironorth tower. February 17 2012

Chicago firefighters battle a roof fire at the old Chicago Post Office building Friday evening. The fire was contained to a section of the roof in the north tower. February 17, 2012 | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:12AM

Owners of the city’s Old Main Post Office have been hit with 21 code violations after a February blaze that scorched the historic building’s roof.

Among the allegations against owners International Property Developers is that the track fans used to ventilate fumes from underground trains were dirty and inoperable.

The building’s ventilation system is designed to blow away the soot and smoke generated by trains operating on the Union Station tracks running below the facility.

And fire pumps needed to push water through pipes and a sprinkler system also weren’t working, the report found. Firefighters battling the Feb. 17 blaze — which began in ventilation equipment — were forced to use hand pumps.

The exhaust fans were the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by Amtrak just 14 days before the fire. The suit alleged International Property Developers — owned by British developer Bill Davies — bought the building about three years ago and had done “little, if anything, with [the building] since that time.”

The owners’ “failures” have resulted in health and safety concerns for Amtrak’s employees and customers, Metra employees and customers, as well as the public, the suit alleged.

Amtrak was seeking documentation on whether owners were making repairs to the fans when the fire occurred. In court last week, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber denied a request by the owners to get an extension to answer.

“What’s most important to us and to our passengers and the public is that they make repairs and maintain that building,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Another violation targeted the lack of security in the post office, and the city is ordering the owners to provide a watchman in the building between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. until the building is either occupied or razed. Previous owners had security on duty at the building.

“We certainly have no issues with the fire department’s recommendations, which is overnight staffing among other things,” Magliari said.

“We support and agree with their recommendations and we hope that improved maintenance of the building will help protect the public and our train operations, which pass beneath it.”

An International Property Developers spokesman on Tuesday said the building’s owner is working with the fire department to resolve the violations, which he says existed before the company bought the building.

Those issues should be resolved within the next two or three weeks, the company spokesman said.

Davies acquired the vacant post office in 2009 and since has secured contracts on adjacent property. In July, he laid out his ideas to launch a 20-acre development in a zoning application submitted to the city.

Amtrak says his company has until May 3 to respond to its request for documents.

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