Traveled over to the big city of Columbus this afternoon for a variance hearing before of the Board of Building Appeals. The Board of Building Appeals, among other things, has the authority to grant a variance, or relief, in cases where a literal interpretation of the Ohio Building Code could result in an unnecessary hardship. It was our third trip for the Old School project.
Let me say here that those of us active in large commercial and development projects tend to have solid working relationships with local government. Just the nature of the work. Newark has long been blessed with intelligent, hard working, competent, and fair people sitting in positions of authority. It has been my experience that this is not true in all jurisdictions. But I digress.
In the case of the Old School, two separate and distinct governmental agencies, with different agendas, rendered opinions and set forth requirements for the project that were contradictory.
The first of these governmental agencies is the National Park Service and its deputy, the Ohio History Connection. They have their say in the project because, upon completion, we will receive some very necessary historic tax credits. To preserve the historic nature of the building there are some things they say we can't do, and some things they say we must do. One of those things we must do is preserve the existing, and historic, double door assembly separating the staircases (it is a three story building with two staircases) from the corridors. Another thing we must do is preserve the historic wood classroom doors.
The second of the governmental agencies involved in this tale is the local Building Code Department. They very clearly stated when we submitted our plans for the project that the double door assembly separating the staircases from the corridors are not "fire rated" and as such would need to be replaced by a new "fire rated" assembly. Coincidentally, they also said the same thing about the wooden class room doors. (The classroom door situation was resolved in our second variance hearing, but more on that another time.)
It has been my observation that building code officials take life safety issues VERY seriously. Fire ratings exist for the purpose of getting people safely out of a building that has become involved with a fire. It is hard to argue against them. But.........
The historic folks were inflexible. I suspect they have been down this road many times and recognize that development types will figure something out without them having to concede anything. The building code people were receptive to ideas and solutions that took into account their concerns.
I'm not sure who first proposed the solution to the staircase/corridor impasse, might have been us, it might have been the code people. The solution proposed was to add two sprinkler heads on each side of each of the six double door assemblies. (A total of 24 new sprinkler heads). These heads would act independently from the rest of the sprinkler system. When tripped, the heads would generate a "water curtain" providing the necessary fire separation between the corridor and staircase. While the local code people were willing to support this solution, they would not sign off on it permit-wise without the approval of the Board of Building Appeals. So, about five months ago we had our first hearing in front of the Board. They granted the variance under the condition that the alarm tripping the sprinkler system and creating the "water curtain" would be activated by smoke detectors. We were so relieved to receive the variance that we didn't stop to think about smoke detection tripping the system.
I don't know if you have any familiarity with smoke detectors, but it has been our practical experience that dust, or non-fire related particulate matter in the air, can set them off. Creating a "water curtain" sounds like fun, but it would effectively flood a major portion of the building. Having that happen during a fire event would be a good thing. Having it happen because of dust or vaping would be a disaster.
After extensive discussions with the local code people, the sprinkler company, and the alarm designer, we came to the conclusion that we needed to go back to the Board and ask for a variance to their previously granted variance. We asked that they allow us to use a "rate of heat rise" detection system instead of smoke detection. Reasonableness prevailed and this afternoon they said yes and granted us our third variance. Yippee!
|One of the six historic doorways separating the staircases from the corridors|
|A good view of one of the corridors, with the staircase doorway on the right|
|Four new sprinkler heads to provide for a water curtain|