COLUMBIA — The City Council voted on Monday night to table — until a January 2009 meeting — a request to repeal a section of the city’s fire code that requires Greek houses to install fire sprinkler systems.
The council also authorized the mayor to create a stakeholders committee that will report back to council at the first meeting in November.
— 1999: Student dies in fire at MU’s Sigma Chi fraternity house. — November 2006: Three students killed at other universities after campus fires. — January 2007: City Council votes to adopt 2006 International Fire Code, requiring MU fraternities and sororities to install sprinkler systems in houses by Dec. 31, 2012. — September 2007: Columbia Fire Department addresses concerns raised by MU’s Greek community about sprinklers. — January 2008: Columbia’s building commission pushes for code repeal because ordinance cannot be equally enforced. — April 2008: Council tables ordinance until January 2009
“Having just time for the stakeholders to talk but keeping the ordinance in place and not repealing it gives both sides the motivation to sit down and discuss seriously,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said.
The council adopted the fire code that requires sprinkler systems in 2007 and gave affected Greek organizations until December 2012 to bring their buildings up to code.
Greek chapters have argued that this deadline does not provide them enough time to raise money for the improvements. Their estimates put the cost at $30 per square foot, though the city has commissioned estimates that place the cost at about $3 per square foot. The Missourian previously reported that the Interfraternity Council estimates the cost to be, on average, about $100,000 per house.
Some Greek organizations also think the code unfairly singles out fraternity and sorority buildings because it does not require sprinkler systems in other multi-tenant housing.
As a result, the Building Construction Codes Commission recommended that the council repeal the section of the fire code pertaining to Greek houses.
Skip Walther, a lawyer representing the Greek houses, spoke at the beginning of the public hearing and asked the council to postpone their decision.
“We do believe we can resolve the differences and arrive at a consensus of opinion about how to proceed,” Walther said.
During the public hearing, the mother of Dominic Passantino, an MU student who died in a fire at the Sigma Chi house in 1999, spoke in support of the ordinance.
“Compare the cost of sprinklers to the cost of a child’s life,” Donna Henson said. “The No. 1 cost is a life.”
The council expressed concern about how the process of adopting the fire code was handled, though they supported increased fire safety measures. They asked the Building Construction Codes Commission to look into extending such fire protection to other types of student housing.