We purchased the building next door to us. There is 12' between the concrete tilt up buildings. Our current building is 7100sf, the new building is 5000sf, and there is 1000sf between the buildings. It was my intention to connect the two buildings by cutting a doorway in each building and adding new roof, cement floor, and walls to close it in. In good faith I went to the city to see if there would be any unforeseen problems in doing what I wanted to do. They sent out an inspector to the site and he said there did not seem to be any problem. The city asked me to get blueprints made up and have the project engineered. I did all they asked of me. I soon got the plans back with "code compliant" stamped and signed on the blueprints and building permit in hand.
We move ahead with the project. When we are about 3/4 complete, I get a visit from the county fire marshal. He asked me what I am doing and what my intent is. I told him I am connecting the buildings to enlarge our facility. I told him that I am not making any changes to our spray booth area, just increasing the space for manufacturing. I also told him that I have a building permit. He said, "Yes, I know, but we have a problem." He said, "You need to install fire suppression sprinkling systems in both buildings." I said, "Whoa, wait a minute, nothing was ever said to me about that!" He said, "Yes, I know, I just came from the city and asked them what you were doing and then asked them about the sprinkling system, and they said they didn't think about that." I was dumbfounded! I said, this shop has been here for 30 years. What about the grandfather clause? His reply was, "That all went away when you got your building permit. Now you need to bring it all up to code." I said I'm not changing the existing buildings, only cutting doorways in for passage. What about installing fire doors? He said, no, that won't do. It has to be sprinkled.
We are now done with the project. The city has done the final inspection and signed off on the project, but the fire marshal told our general contractor that he "absolutely will not sign off on the project until sprinklers are installed."
I got some quotes for this. To bring in an 8" main from the street and install the whole system is going to be around $50k to $60k. I don't quite know what to do. I can't afford that. That was the whole purpose of going to the city before I purchased the property next door, to see if there were going to be any problems with what I wanted to do. If I had known that in the beginning, I would not have joined the two buildings.
The building permit says that it is for the 980sf of addition that I am doing, not the other two buildings. My contractor is scheduling a meeting with us, city officials, fire marshal and our contractor to talk about it. I am not optimistic; I think his mind is made up. More importantly, I think this is purely a judgment call from the fire marshal.
Any suggestions? Should I find a good code compliance attorney? What a living nightmare!
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor H:
Are you changing the use of the new building you bought? If so, then you may be stuck bringing it up to current code. I would get an attorney that is code familiar. And research state code requirements. It is possible that if county overrides city, then state might override county. I have had more minor things where that worked for me. Have you changed your deeds to make the properties one? If so, again, you may be stuck. Things like this are more often than not a battle of egos and power.
Ridiculous as this may sound, would it be possible to have the connecting hallway rebuilt so that it does not actually touch either of the two buildings, and thereby exempting you from the sprinkler requirement? I have seen some bizarre things over the years, just a thought.
Perhaps if you sued the city for negligence and have them foot the bill for the sprinklers, they may decide you don't need them after all. A difficult situation, to be sure.
I think a cool and calm battery of questions and then a visit to an attorney with experience in this matter would help to solve this issue. Unless you are surrounded by incompetent people, something slipped way too far through a crack and it sounds like the building inspector is a good place to look for fresh spackle.
My new project almost came to end about six months ago. I thought I was going bankrupt instead of opening a new shop. The fire sprinkler was the last in a whole series of government dictated, unexpected expenses. And that was despite the tens of thousands of dollars we spent having engineers and architects plan and put their stamp on the project. If they don't know, how would I? Our situation was really, really bad. In the end an engineer involved suggested we call a certain county councilman who also is a business owner. We told him our woes. He made a phone call to someone at the county permitting office and within two hours I had my certificate of occupancy without a sprinkler. I would definitely speak to someone who may have empathy for your situation, have power over regulatory peoples' purse strings and able to help them do what is reasonable.