Outgoing Council Members Split on Final Vote - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

5/17/06

Outgoing Council Members Split on Final Vote

The fire department says it's a matter of safety. The West Texas Homebuilders Association says it's about cost. On Thursday, it will be up to city council to decide.

Last year, council adopted an international building code that requires new one and two story apartment complexes to have indoor fire sprinklers. Before that, only three story complexes and above were required to have sprinklers. Now, the West Texas Homebuilders Association is asking the city to amend that code so sprinklers don't have to be installed in new one and two story apartment complexes. NewsChannel 11's Kealey McIntire explains why it's causing a debate between safety and money.

A scene at Peppertree Apartments from November 2003 is exactly why the Lubbock Fire Department says all apartment complexes need sprinkler systems. A fire at that location killed a 65-year-old man.

Lubbock Fire Chief Steve Hailey says between 1989 and 2005, 993 apartment fires were reported. Those fires resulted in 91 injuries, six deaths and eight million dollars in property damage. Chief Hailey declined an on-camera interview, but says sprinkler systems could drastically improve those statistics.

However, West Texas Homebuilders Association President Tim Green says in terms of safety, apartments already have strict requirements for smoke detectors, which he says provide ample warning in case of fire.

"Any bedroom, any hallway, any ceiling change you have a smoke detector. So you can have as many as five to seven smoke detectors in a small little apartment," he said.

According to the National Apartment Association, it costs $4 per square foot to install a sprinkler system. For the average size complex, the total cost would be almost $1 million.

Green says you also have to factor in expensive service and maintenance costs. He says if building costs go up, so will rent. That's why he's asking council to re-think the issue. "I hope the council will look at the issues, look at the big picture and do what's best for the citizens," said Green.

Green adds they are very concerned with safety, that's why they've met with the fire department to discuss more cost effective fire safety alternatives.

This will be the last vote the sitting city council makes before the new members are sworn in. NewsChannel 11 called each member and asked how he or she plans to vote.

Mayor Marc McDougal says he'd like to see the amendment pass. Gary Boren and Jim Gilbreath are expected to vote against it. Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Martin says he's undecided. Linda DeLeon, Floyd Price and Phyllis Jones did not return our phone calls.

NewsChannel 11 did some research and found that all cities in Texas comparable to Lubbock, including Abilene, Amarillo and Midland require one and two story apartments to have sprinkler systems. If it passes, Lubbock would be one of the few to go against that requirement.

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