Archive for Thursday, July 15, 2010

Downtown Lawrence sprinkler program was trimmed in ’08

A fire in downtown Lawrence this week has brought about more conversations about the safety of the main tourist street in town in the event of a fire. A number of downtown businesses do not have sprinkler systems, which can cost more than $20,000.

July 15, 2010


A fire at Marks Jewelers, 817 Mass., last week was successfully extinguished thanks to an alarm, but debate over which downtown stores should have sprinklers could start again.

The jewelry store, which doesn’t have a sprinkler system, suffered $5,000 in damage after a malfunctioning piece of equipment sparked a small fire July 7. The building is the 14th oldest jewelry store in the United States. Its alarm system alerted firefighters, who quickly extinguished the blaze.

Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr estimates that 47 of 161 buildings downtown have sprinkler systems.

Because of the age of many downtown structures and their proximity to one another, a single fire could potentially wipe out centuries of history and one of Lawrence’s main tourist destinations.

“Can you imagine what it’d be like if you had a downtown without a block? Charred ruins?” said Bob Schumm, owner of Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse and two other Massachusetts Street buildings. “It’d be devastating to that whole district and surrounding neighborhoods, and our tourism would certainly take a hit.”

The possibility of a domino-effect fire also concerns city officials.

In 2006 city commissioners had authorized a program that paid 75 percent of the cost to install sprinkler systems in downtown buildings. That decision came after a fire destroyed 10 century-old buildings in downtown Fort Scott.

“A fire that’s in an older building that is adjacent to other older buildings is a concern,” said Lawrence Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard. “Certainly the sprinkler system helps to slow the pace of the fire or extinguish it entirely.”

Stoddard said several Lawrence businesses took part in the program, before it was cut two years later because of budgetary concerns.

“We had a number of businesses that had expressed interest, and even when the funds had run out we had a waiting list,” Stoddard said.

The incident at Fort Scott showed that alarms and fire sprinklers are a business’ first line of defense in battling a fire, but installation of those items can cost upward of $20,000 depending on the size of the building.

“That’s something that the average person just can’t afford,” Schumm said. “They recognize the need for it, but you just can’t come up with the money to do that.”

Schumm said that, for him, protecting downtown from a potential disaster was well worth the cost.

“My three buildings are sprinkled, and either building on each side of me is sprinkled,” he said. “It’s just a great relief to be able to think that more than likely, most likely, it’s never going to burn down.”


Stephen Roberts 7 years, 6 months ago

I like downtown but this program is so stupid. If the owners of the properties were really concerned about their buildings, then they should pay for 100% of the costs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

If there were ever an appropriate use of the proposed 1% CID, paying for these sprinkler systems could be it.

That said, there are other, perhaps better, ways of funding installation of these sprinkler systems as well. You'd think the insurance companies who hold policies on these buildings would like to see their potential risk reduced, and offer reduced premiums to any building owner who wanted to install them.

nekansan 7 years, 6 months ago

I can't believe that the property owners do not see a significant benefit in the form of reduced insurance rates and lowered liability exposure for not having proper fire protection. If this is not a significant enough economic incentive why should the general taxpayers be on the hook to make improvements to financially benefit private property owners? If there is a taxpayer funded incentive to make these improvements then it needs to at least be in the form of loans to the business that are paid back in the form of special property tax assessments.

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