Fire code ‘overkill’ at city parking garage?
The city of Glenwood Springs may have spent about $235,000 too much for fire protection and ventilation systems in its new $4 million downtown parking garage at Ninth and Cooper, according to a local engineer and architect who have been researching the matter.
Barney Mulligan, a retired engineer who specialized in fire protection systems for more than 50 years including as senior engineer for the Denver Fire Department; and longtime local architect Dean Moffatt, say the sprinkler, ventilation and related alarm systems in the partially enclosed structure alone are “overkill.”
A stand-alone, 4-inch dry standpipe system that was also included as part of the construction in 2012-13, at an estimated cost of around $50,000, is way over the top according to applicable fire code requirements, they claim.
City Manager Jeff Hecksel said he is having Glenwood Springs Fire Department officials review the issue, which was already investigated earlier this year after Mulligan and Moffatt first raised their concerns.
Deputy Fire Marshal Ron Biggers said at the time that, based on the architectural designs and because more than half of the parking garage’s lower level is underground, it is considered an “enclosed structure,” and that the fire protections are necessary.
But, Mulligan said in an interview following his and Moffatt’s appearance before City Council last week, “The standpipe in this parking structure is the most ridiculous of the four non-required systems.”
“The sole purpose of standpipes is to expedite the application of water to fires on the upper levels of mid- and high-rise buildings,” said Mulligan, who said he worked on the design of several such structures in Denver and in Alaska during his career.
Standpipe systems allow firefighters to pump water from a fire engine or hydrant into the built-in piping system so that water can travel quickly to the upper reaches and remote parts of a building, he explained.
Mulligan cites National Fire Protection Association requirements calling for standpipe systems to be installed in structures exceeding 50 feet in height. The two-level parking garage rises to a maximum height of 17 feet, Mulligan noted.
“The lowest height in any type of structure requiring a standpipe starts at 30 feet,” he said. “This street-level standpipe system will never be used and should be removed.”
Moffatt contends that the structure, which he said was planned as an “open parking garage” by the city’s contract architects when it was first designed, also should not have required a sprinkler system or the carbon monoxide detection and ventilation systems because the north end of the lower level has openings.
“None of these systems are required or necessary,” he said, adding other public building projects show similar code overkill, including the new Glenwood Springs Library/Cooper Commons building, as well as City Hall and the Community Center, which were built more than a decade ago.
“You need to get to the heart of the matter, and figure out what went wrong,” Moffatt advised City Council.
While the city may have little recourse more than a year after the parking garage was completed, Moffatt and Mulligan suggested that at least the standpipe and ventilation systems could be dismantled and some of the cost recouped by reselling them for market value.
They also suggested that on future projects the city use a third-party engineer to review plans and determine what’s needed in the way of fire protection and ventilation systems.
When questions were first raised late last year, opinions differed on whether the parking garage is in fact an open or enclosed structure.
Due to the significant south-to-north down slope where the garage was built, the south end lies below Cooper Avenue, allowing for entrances to both the upper and lower levels directly off Cooper.
The lower entrance area has several openings along three sides of the building. Those not providing vehicle or foot access into and out of the parking garage are covered with wire grates.
Because of those grates, the structure can be considered enclosed, Deputy Fire Marshal Biggers wrote in a February 2014 memo to the city’s assistant public works director, Dave Betley.
“During all the discussions on the garage that I was a part of the garage was considered enclosed on the first level, and the sprinkler and fire alarm requirements were never questioned,” Biggers indicated in that memo.
The standpipe system seemed justified, he said of his review of the fire code requirements, especially because of the city fire department’s equipment limitations.
“Our preconnected hose lays on our engines are 200 feet in length,” Biggers explained in the memo, whereas the distance from the lower-level entrance to the far southwest corner of the parking garage is about 260-280 feet.
The fire alarm system that is triggered should the sprinkler system be activated by heat from an actual fire “is required to notify people in the structure that the sprinkler system is flowing and they should evacuate the building,” Biggers also said in that memo.
Biggers said this week that he has been asked to revisit the issue and file a follow-up report later this month.
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