Sprinkler rules are up for debate

Published 2:19 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2007

By Staff
Adjusting occupancy levels raises concerns at state and local levels
A building code rule change being discussed at a public meeting in Washington today could reduce the number of buildings required to have sprinkler systems installed.
The state’s Insurance Commissioner, Jim Long, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, has come out strongly against the proposed change, which would affect the entire state. A local fire chief also opposes changing the code.
The North Carolina Building Code Council will meet to discuss the sprinkler rules today at 9 a.m. at the Washington Civic Center, 110 N. Gladden St.
According to a press release, the Code Council will vote on a proposal to adjust occupancy levels of dining facilities that prompt automatic sprinkler system requirements. Currently, the code requires any building exceeding 5,000 square feet with an occupancy load of 100 or more to have sprinklers. The new proposal would change that occupancy load to 300, the release notes.
Under this change, fewer public buildings would have sprinkler systems.
Long called the change “ill-advised and misguided” and said it would put people at an unnecessary risk.
Long is expected to attend today’s council meeting.
Washington Fire Chief Jimmy Davis said that the proposed change has been controversial across the state.
He expected a large crowd to be on hand at today’s meeting.
He noted that the push for the change was coming from architects who wanted to defray costs.
Developers Jim Poteet and Norm Koestline announced in February plans to renovate the building at the southeast corner of North Market and Second streets. The space is being proposed for commercial uses on the first floor and offices for professionals such as attorneys and accountants on the second floor.
In a brief interview Monday, Koestline said because the project involves new construction, the building has to be brought up to code.
Bill Gwinn, a local architect with Inner Banks Architecture, said he planned on attending today’s meeting.
According to Gwinn, mandatory sprinkler systems for multi-family housing units such as condominiums or apartments may be on the chopping block as well.
He said these new rules would promote less costly construction, but Gwinn said he agreed completely with Long’s concerns.
Gwinn said he was not in support of or against the proposed sprinkler rule change.