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UPDATE: Public pleads for more time to keep Waterloo Warming Center open

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UPDATE: The fate of the Waterloo Warming Center is still undetermined.

Members of the public plead with the Waterloo City Council Tuesday to keep the warming center open until a new location can be secured. The center was put in jeopardy when it was ruled the current location doesn't meet fire code.

"If there was a fire there would be someone there to sound the alarm and get people out. I would think the likelihood of someone dying from a fire would be far less likely than someone either suffering severe frostbite or freezing to death in this terrible weather we have," said Jay Nardini, Waterloo.

Black Hawk County Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who helped organize the center, spoke at the meeting as well. Schwartz indicated that the city has agreed to extend the past deadline of Friday, January 24th as organizers attempt to find a more suitable location.


UPDATE: City leaders have extended the deadline to keep the Waterloo Warming Center open.

Chris Schwartz and Waterloo Fire Chief Pat Treloar both confirmed that the deadline was extended until Friday, January 24th. Treloar said they wanted to offer more time for an alternative location to be found and to keep the service open with impending cold.

Schwartz said they're still looking for a location but have "no concrete offers." He encourages anyone who could offer them another space to contact him through the information listed below.


WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) - Just as winter weather has hit Eastern Iowa this weekend, a lack of sprinklers could force the Waterloo Warming Center to close its doors.

"We've seen all sorts of people, family, the elderly, the young," said Black Hawk County Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who helped organize the project.

The center opened on January 6th at the Jubilee United Methodist Church on the corner of E 4th St and Newell St in Waterloo.

“This dilemma highlights the urgent problem of homelessness and poverty in our community and nation.  Without immediate intervention, people can lose toes, fingers, limbs, and ultimately, their lives.  We pray that our civic leaders can quickly reach a viable solution to this temporary problem until something more permanent can be put into place," said the church's pastor, Abraham Funchess, in a statement to KWWL.

Schwartz says they were informed by the city that the church was not up to fire code for people to stay overnight because of a lack of sprinklers.

“We understand and appreciate the need for fire safety regulations, but we cannot close this location down until a new appropriate location has been secured, the alternative is leaving folks out to freeze to death on our streets," Schwartz said in a statement in a Facebook post.

Waterloo Fire Chief Pat Treloar tells KWWL that they didn't make the decision lightly. Treloar says he consulted with several fire chiefs across the state. Treloar says he's respectful of the situation but notes the department has an obligation to enforce fire code.

"The vast majority of them said that they would shut down the center immediately because code is so clear on it. Again, we chose not to do that," said Treloar.

The center will be able to stay open through January 21st, according to Schwartz, but the future after Tuesday is unclear.

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart spoke to KWWL by phone Friday evening, he said its an unfortunate situation. He hoped to assure the public that his office, the fire department, and others were working to quickly find a solution.

Waterloo Fire Marshal Chris Ferguson provided the following examples of the International Fire code that the city follows:

2015 IFC Scope and Administration Section 102 Applicability 102.3 Change of use or occupancy. Changes shall not be made in the use or occupancy of any structure that would place the structure in a different division of the same group or occupancy or in a different group of occupancies, unless such structure is made to comply with the requirements of this code and the International Building Code. Subject to the approval of the fire code official, the use or occupancy of an existing structure shall be allowed to be changed and the structure is allowed to be occupied for purposes in other groups without conforming to all of the requirements of this code and the International Building Code for those groups, provided the new or proposed use is less hazardous, based on life and fire risk, than the existing use.

2015 IFC Chapter 2 Definitions Residential Group R. Residential Group R includes, among others, the use of a building or structure, or a portion thereof, for sleeping purposes when not classified as an Institutional Group I or when not regulated by the International Residential Code in accordance with Section 101.2 of the International Building Code.

2015 IFC Fire Protection Systems Section 903 Automatic Sprinkler Systems 903.2.8 Group R. An automatic sprinkler system installed in accordance with Section 903.3 shall be provided throughout all buildings with a Group R fire area.

Schwartz is asking the city to allow them to stay in the church until a new location can be found and for anyone with a possible space to contact him.

It's a space that needs to be up to code, but also fit the needs of the shelter.

"The homeless population often congregates downtown, bridges, and around the river. They don't have reliable transportation. So we need something that's just within reasonable walking distance," said Schwartz.

Schwartz can be reached at waterloowarmingcenter@gmail.com or contact Schwartz at 319-429-0133.

Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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