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Local

St. Albans Green demolition begins, new plans proposed

SYCAMORE – On Friday, 111 days after an intense fire destroyed Building A at the St. Albans Green apartment complex and displaced 120 residents, demolition of the structure began.

Property owner Jim Mason of Mason Properties said he’s never gone through the demolition process before, and he said he doesn’t know how long it will take. The first step before the demolition could start was removing the utilities.

“We have to disconnect the electrical and water,” he said. “We can’t remove anything until then.”

Demolition of the U-shaped building will clear the way for the next chapter for the site at 711 S. Main St.

Mason’s plan to replace Building A calls for three blocks of townhomes, each with 27 three-bedroom units and a one-bedroom, Americans with Disabilities Act Accessible unit. The 82 bedrooms across the three buildings would match the total number of bedrooms that were destroyed in the fire.

According to the building permit for the demolition, the 50,000-square-foot building is to be demolished by
backhoe and loaded into covered dumpsters before being transported to the DeKalb County landfill. In October, Mason said there was about 400 to 500 tons of material to remove. Mason bought the building, which first opened in June 1968, in 1994.

Necessary steps

The demolition was supposed to begin Thursday, but weather conditions pushed it back to Friday morning.

Mason said the weather had to warm up so that hydraulics systems in the machines would operate properly. Temperatures rose from the 20s to the mid-30s between Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

John Sauter, director of building and engineering for the city of Sycamore, said the process when a building burns is to first do a fire investigation and then after that, insurance adjusters investigate.

“It’s usually longer than what most people would think because of the many steps in the insurance process,” Sauter said. “Any building destroyed like that or damaged is an eyesore, but we have to allow the process to happen.”

He said in his tenure, the time it took for the building to be razed after it burned was relatively brief given the seriousness of what happened.

“We’ve had houses wait for more than a year,” Sauter said. “This is actually the quickest one we’ve seen given the size and severity of the incident.”

The fire

Neighbors said they heard what sounded like a pair of explosions that shook their homes at the time the fire started about 5:30 p.m. July 27.

The fire alarms sounded inside the apartment complex’s Building A, home to 120 Sycamore residents. The fire sent plumes of dark gray smoke raging sky-high. Firefighters from Sycamore, DeKalb, Genoa-Kingston, Sugar Grove, Cortland, Kirkland, Maple Park, Burlington, Malta, Hampshire and St. Charles were on the scene to try to extinguish the inferno. DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputies and Sycamore police also assisted.

The building did not have water sprinklers because buildings that are 2½ stories or less – St. Albans Green had only two floors – do not require sprinklers.

Todd Turner, Sycamore deputy fire chief, said the blaze was one of the two biggest fires in Sycamore’s history, the other being the St. John’s Church fire in 2004.

Sycamore Deputy Chief Art Zern said the fire started on a second-floor balcony and quickly extended into the attic.

Authorities have not reached a definitive conclusion about what caused the fire, Turner said.

“We have suspicions,” he said. “It’s only a guess because it’s nothing we can prove.”

Turner said the fire department’s official answer about what happened is that the fire still is under investigation by the insurance companies.

“It’s out of our hands now,” he said.

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