Archive for Sunday, March 10, 1991


March 10, 1991


Lack of money prevents Kansas University from correcting documented fire safety code violations in campus buildings, state and KU officials say.

"We just don't have funds to do the job. It'd be like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Warren Corman, director of facilities for the Kansas Board of Regents.

Robert Porter, associate director of physical plant maintenance at KU, said, "Probably every building on campus needs some corrections."

"You can't make those changes overnight," he said.

A campuswide power outage last year and state fire marshal inspection reports detailing campus fire hazards pointed up the seriousness of the problem, he said.

"The total loss of power . . . put the whole campus in black for 40 minutes," said Porter, who believes it was the second-longest outage at KU in 35 years.

THERE WERE "isolated cases" in which emergency lights didn't function, he said. State codes require that emergency lights burn for a minimum of 90 minutes.

"We had some that lasted 15 to 20 minutes or maybe didn't come on at all," Porter said.

The state fire marshal made a structural fire safety inspection of all campus buildings in October. Not all buildings had deficiencies, but many did.

For example, state inspectors found Spooner Hall lacked alternate exits, emergency lighting and exit signs on all floors.

"No improvement since last inspection," the report on Spooner says.

LIKEWISE, deficiencies remained in Hoch Auditorium, which was cited for having no sprinkler for the stage and no emergency lighting.

The reports indicated many university buildings, such as the Spencer Research Library and Lippincott Hall, had insufficient emergency lighting.

Watson Library, Robinson Gymnasium and Jayhawker Towers, a campus apartment complex, lacked emergency exit signs, according to the state reports.

Although the balcony of Hoch was ordered closed by the state for fire safety reasons, deficiencies there may remain for some time, Porter said.

He said the university likely would wait until construction of the Lied Center for the Performing Arts is finished before considering a renovation of Hoch.

RONALD HELMS, professor of architectural engineering, said big lecture halls, such as Hoch, should receive top priority because the potential for loss of life is greatest in them.

"If a fire starts and the lights go out, there will be people trampled to death trying to get out," he said.

KU has a wish list of $6.5 million in maintenance projects, but there isn't that much money available for the entire state university system, Porter said.

"We have a huge list of unfunded maintenance and repair needs," Corman said. "If we had all the money we wanted, there wouldn't be a problem."

KU budgeted $150,000 for fire safety repairs in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Based on state reports and a study by KU, Porter said a two-phase plan has been developed to address fire safety concerns.

"IT WILL BE quite expensive and extensive to implement, so it will have to be phased in," Porter said.

He said the plan, depending on the availability of state funding, is to first address deficiencies in Stauffer-Flint, Wescoe and Dyche halls, and Watson Library.

For example, Porter said Dyche needs shelving barriers for chemicals, sprinklers and emergency lighting.

In the second phase, fire safety problems would be corrected in Blake and Nichols halls, Robinson Gymnasium, Spencer Library and Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.

Most of the work will involve emergency lighting. Some battery-powered systems are inadequate and replacement parts no longer can be bought, he said.

"We will have to change systems. We're looking to a central system for each building either a battery bank or emergency generator," Porter said.

Corman said it was important to keep in mind that campus buildings constructed years ago don't have to be brought into compliance with existing fire codes.

"A lot of older buildings were built under older codes. They were grandfathered in. They don't comply with newer codes," he said.

FOR EXAMPLE, staircases are wide open at Strong Hall, the main administration building.

"If that were done today, it would be a violation of current codes. The smoke would go right from bottom to top," he said.

Helms said he was in Strong Hall last fall when the power outage occurred. In the room he was in, there was no emergency lighting, he said.

"I don't want to be put in a position of being against the university, but it's a problem that must be solved," he said. "I understand the financial problems the university faces."

"And if the university makes a big stink about it, the Legislature might say, `Sure we'll give you the money to do all that stuff, but it's going to come out of salaries,'" he said.

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