Safe steps — Speedy construction helps, but city has higher priority

4/4/2014

New, affordable housing remains a priority in Garden City.

New, affordable housing remains a priority in Garden City.

At the same time, the city has a much higher priority in keeping its residents safe.

A reminder of as much came during Tuesday's Garden City Commission meeting, as city officials addressed an apartment complex under construction.

At issue were particulars of construction at 202 and 204 College Drive that was halted when city staff discovered fire-sprinkler systems required by International Building Code (IBC) — the most widely adopted building code in the nation — hadn't been installed.

Some confusion apparently centered on construction of duplexes vs. apartments.

Under the code, sprinklers are required for any apartment building with four or more attached units. The College Drive project calls for 16 apartment units; six in one building, and 10 in another.

Every apartment complex built in Garden City since June 1, 2006, has required the fire safety feature.

But operating in a builder-friendly environment encouraged by the city to help pave the way to new housing, the project moved forward without submission of plans endorsed by an architect or engineer. The city allowed as much (although the expectation was to receive the stamped architectural plans earlier), which shouldn't happen again.

During Tuesday's meeting, builder John Chappel asked the city to waive the part of the IBC that requires installation of sprinkler systems in apartment complexes.

The pitch reportedly included owner/landlord Steve Burgess promising to somehow absolve the city of any liability from a fire-related death — a shocking offer from the owner of a rural Finney County rental where a mother and her two young children perished in a 2012 fire. The home had no smoke detectors, even though Kansas law requires structure owners to provide as much.

While every landlord should do their utmost to ensure tenant safety, city government still must step in with inspections and other safeguards. Any shortcut that may speed up the process, but at possible risk to others, cannot be tolerated.

As for the College Drive project, those involved have since agreed to add the sprinkler systems. Good.

Even amid a pressing need for housing, safe environments still matter most.

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