Fraternity spends $2 million on sprinklers, other updates

Monday, February 23, 2009 | 6:14 p.m. CST; updated 10:24 p.m. CST, Monday, February 23, 2009
Brad Ortmeyer installs fire sprinklers on the premises of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house on South Providence on Monday. The house is being renovated to make it more energy efficient and meet fire safety codes.

COLUMBIA — The MU chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity is spending $2 million on house renovations, including the addition of fire sprinklers and other safety features.

The 124-member fraternity is taking the action even though the City Council is still reconsidering an ordinance that requires Greek houses to install sprinklers by 2012.


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Mark Timberlake, an engineer working on the renovation and Pi Kappa Alpha alumnus, said it was time for members to live in an updated and safer fraternity house. The chapter has 124 members.

“Some major updates were needed," said Timberlake, who lived in the house from 1977 to 1982. "It was just an old building. It was time.”

The planned renovations were so extensive that installing the safety features now, instead of waiting for City Council action, seemed to make sense to Randy Coil of Coil Construction.

“It was just an obvious decision to install the safety basics that every building and house should have — fire sprinklers and alarm systems,”  Coil said.

The City Council created a sprinkler task force to study an ordinance passed in January 2007 requiring all fraternity and sorority houses to install fire sprinklers. Passage of the ordinance followed the death of a student in 1999 at MU's Sigma Chi fraternity house.

Greek chapters have argued that the deadline does not provide enough time to raise money for the improvements. The Missourian previously reported that the Interfraternity Council estimated the cost to be, on average, about $100,000 per house.

Some Greek organizations also argue the code unfairly singles out fraternity and sorority buildings because it does not require sprinkler systems in other multi-tenant housing.

Since January 2000, a total of 103 people have died in campus-related fires across the country, according to Campus Firewatch. Almost 90 percent have occurred in off-campus and Greek housing.

Sunday night, an unattended hookah caused a fire on the third floor of the Sigma Chi fraternity house. Battalion Chief Steve Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said no one was injured in the fire but up to 30 fraternity members and guests were evacuated while the fire was extinguished.

In addition to sprinklers and other safety features, making the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house more energy-efficient was a priority, Coil said.

Sprayed foam insulation is typically easier to install, safer to the environment and more energy-efficient than traditional blankets or batts of fiberglass insulation, Coil said.

New energy-efficient windows, a new heating and cooling system and energy efficient lights will be installed in the house by June. The house will be ready for occupation by Aug. 1, in time for formal fraternity recruitment.

“This renovation required countless donations from actives and alumni, as well as a bank loan to make it happen,” fraternity president Kyle Tibbles said.

“We had tons of alumni support," said senior fraternity member Cameron Woods, 21. "We all pledged $50 every year for five years just to make our new house and the new updates a possibility.”


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Charles Dudley Jr February 24, 2009 | 4:06 a.m.

Good for this frat in looking to keep it's members safer.

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