Oakdale requires more buildings to be sprinkled

Thanks to a new building code amendment approved by the Oakdale City Council Nov. 22, sprinkler systems will be required from now on for most new commercial buildings and any non-sprinkled existing structures that build additions or change occupancies.

According to Building Inspector Bill Schmitt, Oakdale was one of the few metro municipalities that had not adopted the amendment, already approved by 43 Minnesota cities. Though state statute stipulates the requirements of the change cannot be amended by City Councils, Oakdale was able to choose whether existing buildings would be affected or not. Both the city’s Economic Development Commission and the council elected unanimously to include renovated non-sprinkled existing buildings in the ordinance.

“I’m biased, but if there’s one fire in that building, they’ve more than paid for that sprinkler system,” Fire Chief Jeff Anderson told the council during its Nov. 22 meeting. “Though I know they’re not cheap, I think they’re an inexpensive insurance method.”

The code targets several classification of building structures. They include:

• assembly (auditoriums, restaurants)

• business (office spaces)

• factory (industrial manufacturers)

• mercantile (large stores)

• storage facilities (all with 2,000 or more gross square footage or three or more stories in height)

• educational buildings with the 2,000 or more gross square footage or two or more stories

• daycare facilities serving 30 or more students, and

• hotels, apartments and homes with 8,500 or more gross square footage or three or more stories.

The amended code may take effect in an existing building that changes occupancies, depending on the new type of business that moves in, Anderson said.

“I believe builders and developers are favorable toward it,” said Schmitt, who worked closely with Anderson and Deputy Chief Kevin Wold preparing the proposal during the past few months. “I think the benefits are there... Should there be a fire, it would be much better all around for them (to have sprinklers).”

But the change, now in effect, may be met with some resistance from property owners when new construction projects start next year (Schmitt reported he currently has no new proposals with winter weather beginning). Anderson approached sprinkler system installers and found that a given project could range anywhere from $1.25 per square foot to $4 per square foot for retrofitting sprinklers in an existing building. The cost for installation during new construction ranges from under a dollar to $2 per square foot.

For Bob Stiglich, owner of Stiglich Construction, Inc. and a member of the Economic Development Commission, those numbers created some reservations about the ordinance, though he ultimately voted in favor of it.

“The cost is very much a concern for me,” Stiglich said. “I believe sprinklers are good, I think they work fine and I wish I had them in all of my buildings. (But) it isn’t cheap to remodel these buildings. It is a significant impact.”

Though Stiglich acknowledged that any loss of life due to a fire far outweighed the cost of sprinklers, he didn’t believe that insurance premiums - particularly in office spaces - would be significantly reduced as a result of installing the systems.

Anderson maintained that if a fire does start, a sprinkler system is an invaluable tool, citing an Oakdale strip mall fire about a year ago that was doused by a single sprinkler head. The National Fire Protection Association has no record of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinkled building where the system was properly operating.

After first being briefed of the amendment by Wold on Nov. 7, City Council members requested more information, particularly about existing apartment complexes in Oakdale not currently equipped with sprinkler systems. Anderson returned Nov. 22 with a list of eight different apartment companies at 19 different locations throughout the city that have yet to get their buildings sprinkled.

Stiglich noted that he had no problem requiring new buildings to feature sprinkler systems, but was not sure that retrofitting for existing buildings was a necessary step.

“Oakdale has been very developer-friendly and this now makes it a little more difficult to own a building and do business in Oakdale,” he said. “(But) if I have to do it, then it has to be done.”

Comment Here