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Fire and building inspectors ensure safety of University structures

by Karen A. Grava - April 20, 2009


All University buildings are constantly checked to make sure they are safe for living and working, according to Robert Hudd, associate vice president for public and environmental safety.

“Our inspection and remediation protocols exemplify current best practice,” Hudd notes. “The fire and building inspectors responsible for assuring the safety of our buildings are among Connecticut’s most capable professionals in their respective disciplines.”

When the University discovered in 2005 that several of the residence halls built with UConn 2000 authority had fire and building code discrepancies, significant investments in code enforcement and organizational changes were made to prevent a recurrence.

Although discrepancies remain, none jeopardizes the life or safety of building occupants, says Hudd.

“If any condition in any University building constitutes a serious life-safety threat, neither the University’s building and fire inspectors, nor the state’s building and fire inspectors, nor I would allow the building to be occupied,” he says.

The University first became aware of code discrepancies four years ago when repairing gas water heaters at Hilltop Apartments. The discrepancies were reported to the trustees, state officials, and the governor. At the governor’s direction, all buildings built or renovated with UConn 2000 funds were then inspected for both building and fire code discrepancies.

As part of the plan to accomplish this, the University made a significant investment to develop a strong and independent code inspection group, says Hudd. The group, based at the Depot Campus, includes UConn building code officials and fire inspectors and representatives of the state Department of Public Safety, including state building and fire code officials.

The inspectors work in concert with Department of Public Safety officials and meet at least every two weeks with UConn’s Office of Architectural and Engineering Services to monitor progress on resolving outstanding discrepancies.

Any building discovered to have a code discrepancy that jeopardizes life-safety is remediated immediately, Hudd says. Buildings with discrepancies that must be corrected but which are not a life-safety threat are subject to corrective action plans approved by both University and state code officials. Those problems are then referred back to the architect and the construction company to fix at no cost to the University.

In many cases, Architectural and Engineering Services officials are involved in designing state-of-the-art fire alarm systems, often consulting with the Fire Department to enhance the protection those systems offer by incorporating features that complement emergency response procedures.

The alarm systems replace fire alarms that were in compliance when the buildings were originally constructed but which, while they may meet code, no longer provide the best available protection.

Most UConn residence halls are equipped with fire sprinkler systems. Mansfield and Northwood Apartments are not, but sprinklers will be installed there this summer.

All residence halls have “addressable” fire alarm systems – alarms that ring in the fire station and indicate the type of problem and where it is.

The Fire Department’s response time on campus is approximately two minutes, McGovern says. The combination of sprinklers, fire alarm systems, and the department’s rapid response time provide optimum safety to our community, he adds.

“The Office of the State Building Inspector and her predecessor have repeatedly assured the Construction Management Oversight Committee of the Board of Trustees that they are fully satisfied with the progress of UConn’s inspection and remediation actions,” Hudd says.

The Construction Management Oversight Committee reviews and approves University policies and procedures under which the UConn 2000 program operates, including the selection of design professionals and contractors, contract compliance, building and fire code compliance, deferred maintenance, project and program budgets and schedules, and change orders.

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