The recent total destruction of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond shows the need to build to a higher standard. This school had passed code when constructed in 2007 and passed regular inspection cycles.
A review of the code process is necessary in order to understand what level of safety is achieved in just meeting the codes. The goal of the codes is to keep costs affordable and still maintain acceptable risk. Codes are designed to give occupants sufficient time to safely evacuate a building but not to save it. In enacting new codes or code amendments the fire service and building safety personnel, which have a high regard for life-safety issues, are on one side, and builders and developers requiring the greatest choices and the lowest costs to build their projects are on the opposite side. Since codes are the consensus of very strong opposite opinions, the final product in many cases is the lowest minimum standard.
In the reconstruction of this school, the desired goal should be to build to exceed code. This includes two-hour fire-rated assemblies, 3- to 4-hour masonry fire wall that extends above the roof line and fully sprinkled interior that also includes attic space, basements, and concealed space. Also a strong and dependable water service for sprinklers and first responders is of the highest priority. This new school building will then have a highly durable product for a safe environment for learning for staff and students.
The writer is president of RES Associates.