Task force to advise City Council on sprinkler issue

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | 6:46 p.m. CST; updated 9:28 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Fire Sprinkler Task Force, a group commissioned by the City Council when it tabled a request to revisit a city ordinance requiring all existing Greek houses install fire sprinkler systems by Dec. 31, 2012, held it's first meeting Thursday.

The task force learned it would not have to determine whether or how it thinks the council should modify the 2006 International Fire Code until Jan. 20 at the earliest, when the council will revisit the request. However, it is likely the council would table the issue again to give the group more time to meet, if necessary.

“I think the goal here is not to feel pressure,” John Sudduth, the city's building regulations supervisor, said. He attends task force meetings as a representative of the Office of Protective Inspections.

The task force is composed of nine members who bring a variety of viewpoints and expertise to the issue. Groups represented include the Greek community as well as insurance, engineering, college and legal interests.

At its next meeting on Jan. 13, the task force will review the timeline of events that led to the city's approval of the 2006 International Fire Code. Attorney and sorority board member Janet Wheeler said this history could provide the group with “new insights” and “new vision” about what action the task force will recommend.

The task force also will look at ordinances in other university cities, such as Lawrence, Kan., and Boulder, Colo., to see what they required when they made sprinklers mandatory in Greek housing.

“Chances are when these cities passed a similar ordinance they had similar problems to what we’re facing, fraternities and sororities protesting because of cost,” Bob Hutton, vice chairman of the task force, said. “It would be interesting to see how they’re faring.”

The task force will also look at whether fire sprinkler systems are installed in off-campus student apartment complexes, such as Campus Lodge and The Cottages.

Representatives of Greek houses have protested the requirement in Columbia, saying they lack sufficient time to raise the money necessary to comply. They also say that there is a lack of clarity about the types of systems required and complain that they're being singled out.

Janna Basler, director of Greek Life at MU, said the primary issues are fairness and student safety. She noted that the fire safety requirements of a former fraternity house changed when it was sold and became Campus Christian House.

“It’s the fairness of, 'If it’s important for students, let’s have it for all student houses, not just a fraternity and sorority structure,'" Basler said. "And how do we develop the best place to make our students safe? I think a task force is a great avenue to our being able to develop this plan.”

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Charles Dudley Jr February 23, 2009 | 5:13 a.m.

Pass the ordinance and stop messing around.

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