U fire sprinklers receive upgrade

By By Jennifer Winters

By Jennifer Winters

The Union’s fire safety systems upgrade, which will keep the Crimson View restaurant closed until January, is one phase of a larger project to equip the entire campus with the latest sprinklers and fire alarms.

The U has revamped and maintained two-thirds of the campus over the past decade, a project costing $2 to $3 million a year in construction, said University Fire Marshal Michael Halligan.

“Our goal is to have all the buildings equipped with sprinklers and have a state-of-the-art alarm system,” Halligan said. “The projected total cost would be $20 to $25 million.”

Although the Union’s indoor sprinkling system is being updated, concerns have arisen as to why buildings on campus were not equipped earlier.

Even though fire sprinklers have been in existence since the late 1800s, when the U was established, there was no uniform standard to install sprinklers. Consequently, sprinklers were unreliable because of discrepancies in pipe sizing and spacing.

Furthermore, because fire codes have not required buildings to have sprinklers in past years, several buildings across campus, including the Union, only had a basic alarm system when it was relocated 50 years ago.

“In the ’70s, I do remember the sprinklers over the cooking ranges constantly going off,” said Ernie Bebb, former Union director from 1968 to 1995.

But fire safety has changed since Bebb’s time.

“Fire protection has evolved with tests and experimentations,” said Lorraine Carli, spokesperson for the National Fire Protection Association. “Public education codes and standards, enforcement and technology have enhanced over the years.”

Building and fire codes today require older buildings to meet current standards only in the section under renovation. Even then, sprinklers may or may not be required, depending on the use of the building.

“It surprises me that the law doesn’t require old buildings to have basic protection,” said Clayton Lantz, a lab consultant at the Milton Bennion Hall student computer lab. “I just assumed it did.”

John McNary, director of Campus Design and Construction, said he wants students to know that progressive steps are being taken to improve their safety on campus.

“(Halligan) is trying to make all the buildings safe and protective,” McNary said. “He’s going back to the buildings that may have not required fire sprinklers and installing them anyway.”

The Union upgrade will include an alarm system with strobe lights for the hearing impaired. The current estimated cost for the multi-phase project is $4 million, according to Randy Van Dyke, assistant vice president for Administrative Services.

The system signals firefighters and U Police within five to seven minutes in case of a fire.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Associate Director for Operations Branden Dalley. “Student safety and security are at the forefront of our minds.”

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