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Mike Krug, who serves as site manager for the Westclox fire cleanup, points out areas where the fire hit hardest as the sun’s last rays of the day illuminate the property. Also pictured is Luis Pantoja, who has been working on the Westclox fire cleanup.
The acrid odor is gone but the rubble remains 11 months after fire destroyed much of the old Westclox Building in Peru. However, cleanup of debris is “imminent,” said a consultant for the owner. The historic building burned Jan. 1-5. Flare-ups occurred weeks afterward. Two boys were charged with arson. Steven M. Gallacher, 17, of La Salle was scheduled for sentencing Friday but this was postponed until Thursday. A younger boy was sentenced to probation. Peru Trade Center LLC owns and leases the building to businesses. Owner Sam Macaluso Sr. said there are no plans to sell the building. He is trying to clear up a glitch with EPA regarding a letter saying cleanup was “terminated.” “Once we’re ready to go I don’t see anything stopping it,” Macaluso said. Mike Krug, a real estate broker in the Chicago area and consultant to Peru Trade Center, serves as site manager. He said cleanup time is almost here. “It’s right around the corner,” he said. “It’s imminent. All of the resources are ready to roll. Once (the owners) do pull the trigger on it we’re ready to go.” Attorneys for Peru Trade Center and E & R International, the recycling business, are negotiating an insurance settlement and meet about once per month, Macaluso said. The insurance claim and scrap metal value would help pay for cleanup, he said. The criminal investigation initially slowed cleanup progress. So did insurance claims. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has given the OK to proceed with cleanup, said Frank Taylor, Peru building and zoning inspector. “I think all of the roadblocks have been removed,” he said. “The stormwater protection plan has been approved. We might have to give them an inspirational nudge.” The field of debris, mostly bricks and steel brought down by burning plastic being stored by the recycling company, is the target of cleanup. Krug compared the wreckage to a beached whale. All you see now are the “bones,” the steel girders, he said. Krug is looking at renting a hydraulic shear that can cut through large pieces of iron. Krug and a crew of workers repaired roofs, plumbing and other structures. They improved hot and cold plumbing and created a working environment for laborers when debris removal begins. They restored a bathroom and cleared lanes through debris for easier entry and exit. Workers were trained in cutting scrap iron for removal, Krug said. A privacy fence now screens the rubble pile from public view. Even before the fence, however, very little of the damage could be seen by the public from Water Street to the south and from busy U.S. 6, which runs past the north side of the building. Taylor heard of few complaints, he said. This fall the City Council several times brought up screening and cleanup. Prior to Thanksgiving, Krug and workers erected 8-foot high fencing with green screening. However, the screening was prone to toppling from high winds this fall. Krug and workers erected steel braces, welding them to anchors in the ground that once served as hitching posts, Krug said. “We’re good at making do with duct tape and baling wire,” he said. “There really isn’t a how-to book on this stuff.” Krug contrasts the Westclox fire aftermath with other dilapidated and damaged properties and the usual course of inaction with those. Krug pointed out the irregularity of contractor commitments during demolition of Peru’s old power plant on Water Street. Peru has two motels to the north that have been boarded up for several years, Taylor said. Krug emphasized that nearly a year after the fire they’re still working to clean it up, still housing tenants and taking on new ones, still fixing what got broke. “Sometimes people pack up their bags and shove off and leave a big pile of junk in your lap,” Krug said. “That’s not going to happen with us. These guys do not want to abandon that building and leave it there. We’re not going to pack up and leave a big mess that somebody has to deal with.” The owners are Sam Macaluso Sr. and Jr. of the Chicago area representing Peru Trade Center LLC. They lease space in the building for commercial, industrial, office and retail uses and for storage. Businesses have come and gone since the fire. A music studio is leasing office space formerly occupied by E & R International, a recycling business whose plastic scrap stored in a massive warehouse fueled the fire. Total Environmental Service Technologies, a 25-year tenant, soon is expected to move to a building near Fourth and Cross streets.