LINCOLN PARK — Repeated vandalism at a historic former school being turned into apartments in Lincoln Park forced the developer to hire growling guard dogs to patrol the site, but the block's latest residents are leaving some neighbors a bit concerned.
"Warning Guard Dogs on Duty Survivors Will be Prosecuted," reads a sign outside the 114-year-old former Mulligan Elementary School at 1855 N. Sheffield.
Neighbors of the development along the mainly residential street say the dogs are intimidating and "extreme," but the developer says he had no other option.
Paul Biasco observed the location a few nights, and says the guard dogs are consistently growling and barking:
Svigos LLC, has been meticulously converting the former landmark former school into an upscale apartment building for more than a year, going brick-by-brick to return the building to its original state.
During that time, vandals have continuously broken into the former four-story school, shattering windows and tagging both the interior and exterior brick.
“It seems crazy to me in that area," said Nick Vittore, vice president of Svigos LLC. "I don’t know what the deal is.”
About three weeks ago, the developer had enough and hired Attack K-9 Security.
Each night the company drops off two guard dogs that roam the grounds surrounding the school behind a beefed up fence.
The company breeds German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, Rottweilers and Malinois to use for security and leaves the animals at the site unattended at night.
The dogs regularly growl at people walking down Sheffield, following them along the fenceline.
Chris Oster, a 25-year-old graduate student who lives in an apartment next to the development site, said he hears the dogs barking nearly every night.
Oster said he spotted a hole in the fence and fears one of the dogs will get out when he is walking his own, much smaller terrier mix.
"I take him out to go to the bathroom and we get growled at and barked at the whole time," Oster said.
He also questioned the wording of the "survivors will be prosecuted sign."
"You are giving the express purpose that these dogs are here to kill anyone who goes on the property," Oster said. "It's terrible."
The developer said the dogs are a temporary measure until greater security cameras and an upgraded alarm system can be installed at the site.
"We don't want anyone in that building because if someone gets in there and gets, hurt that's a problem," he said. "Our biggest fear is someone goes in there and starts a fire."
Police are aware of the break-ins and have been keeping an eye on the building, according to Svigos.
Vittore said people have been continuously breaking into the building for months. He did not want to put a price tag on the damage. But he did say the damage hasn't pushed back the date the company plans on having its first tenants move in by late spring or early summer.
“I don’t know what this solution is," Vittore said. "It's very unusual. We haven’t dealt with this kind of stuff.”
Svigos has been working on an extensive conversion of the building to turn it into 24 apartments. The developer purchased the building, which was built between 1889 and 1890, for $4 million in June 2013.
Svigos's plan is to retain the vintage feel of the former school building, restoring what is savable and installing vintage lights, flooring and door handles salvaged from Barat College in Lake Forest.
The city granted the building landmark status and Svigos is seeking federal historic tax credits to help fund the preservation of the building.
"[The vandalism] is just unfortunate," Vittore said. "It's just more work to do for no reason."
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