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McHenry Area Jaycees Haunted House canceled for 2017 season

Nonprofit looking for new location for 2018

H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com
McHenry's Community Development Director Ross Polerecky (left) and Deputy City Administrator Bill Hobson discuss the safety problems facing the McHenry Area Jaycees if they are to continue to use the Knox Park barn as the location for their long-running haunted house. The group has canceled its annual haunted house this year because the barn has been declared unsafe.
H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com McHenry's Community Development Director Ross Polerecky (left) and Deputy City Administrator Bill Hobson discuss the safety problems facing the McHenry Area Jaycees if they are to continue to use the Knox Park barn as the location for their long-running haunted house. The group has canceled its annual haunted house this year because the barn has been declared unsafe.

McHENRY – The McHenry Area Jaycees Haunted House at Knox Park barn is canceled because of the building’s lack of fire sprinklers, which would have cost about $30,000 to install.

The haunted house has been held at the Knox Park barn in McHenry’s Knox Park for the past 31 years. This summer, the nonprofit launched a GoFundMe account to try to raise money to move it to another location after it became apparent that using Knox Park barn wasn’t a viable option.

“The hardest part about it is a haunted house is a very high-risk business for insurance companies,” Jaycee member Mary Kozel said. “There isn’t a lot of real estate that will allow a haunted house to come in for half a year. We are still looking.”

The Jaycees paid the city of McHenry $10,000 annually for its use of the space, Kozel said.

She said the group wanted to keep the haunted house in McHenry, but is looking for possibilities in surrounding communities, such as Johnsburg and Spring Grove.

The aim is to bring back the haunted house in 2018, Kozel said.

The city of McHenry uses the barn for storage and doesn’t have plans to install fire sprinklers or expand the barn’s purpose, Deputy City Administrator Bill Hobson said.

State fire code requirements for buildings that operate as haunted houses were tightened in 2012, and the city has been working with the Jaycees to get the building compliant, Hobson said.

“We told the Jaycees last year before the event that we needed to continue to make advancements in personal safety,” Hobson said. “Life-safety measures needed to happen – in particular, a fire suppression system. With some advancements in fire code, there really needed to be that fire suppression to make it as safe as it possibly could be.”

Some of those advancements included installing a fire alarm, putting volunteers through fire extinguisher training and having clear exit signs, Hobson said.

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal cites two fatal haunted house fires in its “Haunted Houses and Special Amusement Buildings” code. A 1973 fire killed one person at the Washington Reid School PTA haunted house in Virginia. The second incident occurred at the Haunted Castle at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great America, where eight people were killed in 1984.

The document cites “special hazards” in haunted houses, including temporary buildings, combustible materials, low visibility and “maze-like” design and setup, along with a typical lack of fire sprinklers.

Community Development Director Ross Polerecky said it is unfortunate to see the haunted house go, but safety comes first.

“Absolutely it brings value,” he said. ”But first and foremost, we have to look out for the interests of the citizens and people utilizing it from a life-safety standpoint, starting with Illinois and the state fire marshal’s office. They’ve come down on these types of amusements, and it’s our responsibility to enforce these measures.”

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