Fire chiefs & engineers concerned about bill that will cut code oversight for school construction projects

Alabama News

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – If passed by the House and Senate, House Bill 220 would remove state oversight of construction projects involving K-12 schools and two-year colleges. The change would apply to projects under $500,000. However, there are more exemptions that could surpass $500,000 that would not need state oversight.

Currently, engineers/builders submit their construction and renovation plans to the the Division of Construction Management. Which often finds a few safety code issues that need to be addressed.

“Our liability is on the line. I can’t do that,” said Johnny Echols, an engineer who works with school districts across North Alabama.

Echols says If HB 220 passes, local building codes will conflict with state codes, creating confusion and liability issues. HB 220 will give code oversight to local building departments. There are locations across Alabama that do not actually have such a department.

“If this bill passes, what’s going to happen tomorrow is nothing. Over the next few years, these jobs, some of them will be done non-code compliant. We will have possibilities of catastrophic failure,” said Tim Love, the President of the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs. Love is also the Fire Chief in Alabaster and has experience in building inspections.

Love says the best of the best building plans always have one or two code violations. He thinks some schools will start picking and choosing what they fix. Potentially cutting cords on budget fixes.

“You could put in a faulty HVAC system in a school and maybe spend $100,000. Causing water damage. Which can cause illness to students because it wasn’t code compliant when it was installed,” said Love.

Proponents for the bill are concerned the Division of Construction Management is inflating construction prices and causing them to spend “unnecessary” amounts of money on projects.

“There are frustrations they have with some of the compliances they have to do. But that’s not a DCM issue. It is state law issue. The big sticking point that they have is storm shelters,” said Echols.

Alabama law requires storm shelters to be built with new school construction. Even if there are renovations, shelter space must be budgeted into the project.

Echols says by and large most school districts especially in North Alabama do not want state oversight of these projects to end. It appears this bill itself was born from an isolated grievance by a school district that felt the state was causing them to spend more money.

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