Auto-Lab: ‘Much ado about nothing’

September 9, 2018

KANKAKEE — Auto-Lab Complete Car Care Center opened in early July, but did so without the plumbing equipment required of car repair businesses, according to Kankakee records.

In June, the firm was given 60 days to take care of the problem. But at some point after that, someone crossed off the words “60 days” from the inspection report and wrote “90 day(s).”

That change was not initialed or signed. Tomora Nelson, the city’s code enforcement director, said building inspector Phillip Leppert made the change.

In June, the city’s plumbing inspector, Mike Magruder, wrote in his report that he met with the owner, plumbing contractor and state plumbing inspector about installing a gas and oil interceptor. Such state-mandated equipment keeps contaminants out of the sewer system.

According to Magruder’s report, Auto-Lab did not comply with a state regulation that requires floor and trench drains that drain to an approved gas and oil interceptor before waste goes into the city sewer.

Contacted this week, Magruder referred questions to Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, who asked Nelson to answer.

Nelson said Auto-Lab has an “old and outdated” system in place that needs to be upgraded. Any spillage that happens is wiped up, so contaminants don’t enter the sewer system, she said.

The state usually gives businesses six months to update systems, Nelson said, but the city decided to go with 90 days.

“The city met with the state plumbing inspector, and they decided 90 days would be sufficient,” Nelson said.

Wanda Lewis-Fullmer, co-owner of Auto-Lab at 382 N. Schuyler Ave., said her business is not putting contaminants into the city sewer system. The business already has the equipment in question, but needs to upgrade it “based on the current code,” she said.

“We don’t have spillage. This is much ado about nothing,” she said.

Her husband, Larry Fullmer, the other-co-owner, said Auto-Lab went “above and beyond in getting equipment that is not required.” He said the project would be done by the new deadline, Sept. 15, adding that it was using local contractors.

The Fullmers said they didn’t want to comment further until they were able to consult with their lawyer.

Brian Cox, the state’s plumbing and water quality manager, said the state doesn’t allow people to put dangerous contaminants into sewer system for any amount of time because they can be flammable, creating the potential for explosions.

The Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency, which maintains sewers in Kankakee and nearby towns, has not heard of any issues associated with Auto-Lab, said Art Strothers, the agency’s superintendent.

Auto-Lab received its property free from the city last year, which officials say is an economic boost for a struggling part of town.

Pat Wilder, owner of All Automotive shops in Kankakee and nearby towns, questions why the city granted the Fullmers the property, apparently without letting others know of the opportunity. Wilder maintains he and others were willing to buy the property.

Wilder also questions how the city has handled Auto-Lab’s code issues. The city, he contends, would have required any other shop to install the proper plumbing equipment before opening.

He has expressed his views on Facebook and sent emails to all the city’s aldermen about Auto-Lab’s code issues. He said he wanted to know who granted the last extension.

“Was it the mayor? Was it the head of code? Was it the building inspector? No one signed this legal document. I have emailed all the aldermen. Not one has responded about who gave (Auto-Lab) the 30 extra days,” Wilder said in an interview. “There’s no accountability whatsoever.”

The Fullmers, who are from Sheridan but say they live in Kankakee now, say they have invested a half million dollars in the Auto-Lab property.

The long-vacant property on Schuyler Avenue came into the city’s possession in a tax sale in 2016. The city paid $600.

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