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Bloomington mayor says fire code update, pandemic backlog are responsible for new changes

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said he looks forward to another good year for the city of Bloomington in 2023.
Charlie Schlenker
"It's not a matter of being overly aggressive or more aggressive — it's just working through the backlog of those inspections," said Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

Capacity and fire safety issues recently publicized at two Bloomington not-for-profit organizations are the result of the city updating its fire code just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said.

"It's not a matter of being overly aggressive or more aggressive — it's just working through the backlog of those inspections," Mwilambwe said in a recent interview for Sound Ideas. "We would be devastated if something were to happen because it's something that we overlooked."

Mwilambwe said in 2020, the city adopted an updated version of both the International Building Code and the International Fire Code, a regular procedure that happens periodically. But the fact that the city operates under updated policies wasn't immediately noticed, since such inspections were suspended during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last November, a fire code inspection at The Salvation Army's Safe Harbor winter shelter resulted in city communication with the Christian charity's leadership about how many people could be housed there safely.

Earlier this year, Hope United Methodist Church leaders learned that, in order for the building they occupy at 1304 E. Empire Street to remain their place of worship, a sprinkler system that costs more than the building would need to be installed, or else they would need to relocate.

"I certainly understand for people that when you are on the receiving end of this news, it's not pleasant, but people have to remember that, ultimately, it really is about safety and ensuring the safety of the individuals who are using those building," Mwilambwe said.

A city spokesperson said in a statement previously that the municipality offered funding options to the local Salvation Army chapter to help it adapt to requested changes. Hope Church leaders have said the church will likely relocate instead of remaining in the current location.

"We're working with those groups to help them address those issues," Mwilambwe said. "We're not as abrupt as it seems."

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.