Casper fire officials gave management at a downtown senior high-rise until year’s end to install an automatic fire sprinkler and alarm system in the building, according to letter released Thursday by the city.
Skyline Towers’ existing fire system is more than 20 years out of date. If apartment managers don’t replace it with a modern system, the city would be forced to serve residents with eviction notices.
Four local philanthropic groups have already pledged to help the nonprofit group that operates the building pay for the $250,000 upgrade. The city of Casper may also contribute money from a federal block grant program.
The United Way, which is facilitating the fundraising effort, is talking with additional philanthropic groups and hopes to have funding for the project in place by the end of next week, said Executive Director Mike Burnett.
“This is something you can’t allow to fail,” he said. “It’s serving a huge need for the community.”
Skyline Towers provides affordable housing to about 120 seniors. Many qualify as low-income under federal guidelines.
The existing fire system dates to 1969, when the tower was built. It consists of a pipe system that firefighters can access on each floor. There are smoke alarms in each apartment, and in the hallways, according to building management.
The system is not automated. Firefighters would have to turn the water on and hook their hoses to the pipes, Burnett said.
Under the existing system, a fire could have disastrous results, Casper Fire-EMS Division Chief Mark Harshman wrote in a Thursday letter to tower officials.
“I cannot in good conscience allow this situation to continue any longer,” he wrote. “It is my duty to insure the life safety of your tenants and employees, and is my first and foremost consideration in this matter.”
Harshman gave Skyline until Oct. 27 to provide detailed plans for an automatic sprinkler and alarm system. The system must be installed by Jan. 1.
Skyline’s management was first notified in 1991 that it should install a new fire system to bring the building up to code. The project was postponed over the years as board members and fire officials came and went, explained Douglas Thomas, vice chairman of the Skyline board of directors.
“Some things probably got lost in communication or tabled,” he said. “Now it has come to a head and we need to do something and move forward with it.”
Skyline expects to use $100,000 from its own reserves to help fund the project, but doesn’t have the money to cover the entire cost of construction. Thomas anticipates the board will raise rent by 10 to 15 percent next year to replenish its reserves.
Rent is currently set at $370 a month, including utilities.
The McMurry Foundation, Blue Envelope, the Zimmerman Family Foundation and a local foundation that asked to remain anonymous would contribute a combine $75,000. The City Council will be asked to give $25,000 in community development block grant money.
“We recognized it as a dire need,” Susie McMurry said Thursday at a meeting to discuss the situation. “We absolutely have to help our senior citizens in our community.”
The United Way is also working with Skyline to address some of the group’s long-term financial issues, Burnett said.