Empty Lake County nursing home could be used for fire training

Before it is demolished, the vacant Winchester House skilled nursing facility in Libertyville likely will become a public safety training ground.

"We just want to take advantage of this" opportunity, Libertyville Fire Chief Rich Carani said.

Because of the way the building is set up, hospital fire and evacuation drills and high-rise training are anticipated, Carani said.

The highly visible 5-story facility for generations was operated by Lake County on its government campus north and west of Milwaukee Avenue and Winchester Road.

But in July, the building's 98 residents were moved to a new, state-licensed facility called Thrive of Lake County on Route 45 southeast of Route 83 in Mundelein.

Winchester House demolition is possible next spring, but, in the interim, the empty structure presents potential security issues. It also would be a unique environment not generally available for local training.

The Libertyville village board tonight will consider a memorandum of understanding with Lake County that would pave the way for the property to be used for training.

Due to the expense and inefficiency of heating the building through winter, Lake County has asked the village to allow the building to be vacant and to disconnect the utilities, fire alarm and sprinkler system, Carani informed the board in a memo.

The International Fire Code allows for the removal of fire protection systems under certain conditions, including a requirement the first floor be boarded up.

As an alternative, the county offered the building for public safety training to the Lake County sheriff's office, Libertyville police and fire and Lake County emergency management, according to Carani.

Because training in a boarded -p building is a violation of safety protocols, the village and county are considering an agreement to provide appropriate security.

According to the agreement, the county would padlock and secure all first-floor doors and windows, provide the fire department with keys, and check daily for breaches.

Public access to the parking lot would be blocked and, if possible, a camera to be monitored by county dispatch would be installed, according to the proposal.

Any firefighting operations would be conducted from outside the building unless there were a known life hazard inside, Carani added.

Training would begin in mid-September pending approval of the agreement.

Winchester House demolition and site clearance is estimated at $2.5 million and is among the projects on the county's proposed capital plan.

Whether the county would keep the cleared property for future expansion or sell or lease it has not been determined.

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