HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Alabama engineers, architects, fire chiefs and school leaders are concerned about recently passed legislation they believe compromises the safety of children in schools. Governor Kay Ivey signed HB 220 last month. The bill ends state oversight of construction projects for school buildings under certain parameters.
Prior to the legislation, architects and school districts would submit construction plans to the Division of Construction Management. The DCM would almost always find a few code violations by even the best architects. Soon, any project under $500,000 will no longer go through the DCM and instead will be up to local building departments. Some projects above $500,000 will also qualify under the new legislation.
“Down the road, 5-10 years… we are really going to start to see the faults in this,” said Tim Love the President of the Alabama Association of Fire Chief’s.
Love doesn’t think the legislature took time to hear concerns or even read about HB 220.
“I really don’t think they clearly understood or I hope they didn’t understand what they were voting for. I heard one Senator say from the floor, all 67 counties have a building department. That’s not true,” said Love.
Governor Ivey, despite signing the bill is forming a committee to iron out concerns from builders, fire departments and schools. All the concerned parties hope the legislation ends up getting thrown out or reversed.
Engineers and builders stand to gain from the legislation because their liability increases, meaning they can charge more. Even then, the engineers and architects prefer having a third, un-biased party to check over building plans.
“I’m assuming it’s pretty bad if the men and women that can make money off of this process, don’t want it, we probably need to listen to them,” said Love.
There is concern about the ability for rural areas to approve plans or for some districts to even think about getting approval for projects.
Jamie Brown, The President of the Alabama Council of the American Institute of Architects says he’s concerned smaller school projects like concession stands and press boxes, which may never get the proper approvals, will be botched. He’s seen this play out before.
“I asked them (someone during a previous inspection) to uncover something because my suspect was they didn’t do it properly when they installed it. Of course he lied to me right off and said yes we did that. I said I’d like to see it. He wasn’t going to do it,” said Brown.
With all the blowback, you may wonder why the bill was even proposed.
“Supposedly it was founded on that the DCM was requiring this or that which runs the costs up on projects. If you stopped and looked, the DCM was not enforcing anything that the law didn’t require,” said Brown.
The legislation will be active for 2-year colleges this August. However, it won’t be in place until January 2022 for K-12 buildings. That’s where the committee has been tasked to make adjustments. State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, who introduced the bill, will now lead a committee of people who mostly disagree with him.
Engineers News 19 spoke with said building codes are a minimum standard. They also mentioned these codes tend to change every three years. Especially when incidents like what happened in Miami pop up. Opponents of the bill are worried the chances of that happening at a school has gone up with this law change.