November 10, 2008

Renovation Highlights Fire Safety Issues

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The news of Olin Library’s renovation, which is set to begin in 2009, includes plans to update the building’s fire safety system and has stirred discussion on campus, raising questions as to how safe University buildings actually are.
That Olin Library does not meet fire codes brings into question fire safety systems in other buildings on campus.
Carl A. Kroch University Librarian Anne R. Kenney did not explicitly say whether or not Uris Library, built in 1891, meets fire codes. The building has never been completely renovated despite “numerous renovations [and] improvements to portions of the building,” according to Kenney.
Kenney stressed the urgency of the Olin renovation project to the University in September. The project is a three-part process, which includes improving fire safety in the adjacent Uris Library.
“Uris Library is part of the comprehensive renovation plan for the Library … The proposed phase three project will include additional work to improve fire safety in [Uris,]” she stated in an e-mail.
Ginny Johnson ’12, a library regular, said she never really thought about fire safety before the renovation was announced. Pat Schafer, co-chair of the renovation planning committee, told The Sun that on average, up to 11,000 people visit the library in a given day during peak academic periods.
[img_assist|nid=33436|title=Fire Safety Through The Years|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Other older buildings on campus have been brought to the table in the discussion regarding building safety on campus. Clara Dickson Hall, the largest residence hall in the Ivy League, houses more than 500 residents each year.
Niaz Husain, residence hall facilities staff member said, “We normally keep our facilities as up to date as possible,” makings changes “at least once a year.”
According to Husain, dorms on campus need to abide by regulations set by Tompkins County.
Husain also noted the intensive fire safety training that staff undergoes. Two weeks ago, he said, “the entire facilities had a hands-on training session,” in which they had to put out a fire. “We really care for the students,” Husain added.
“There was once a real fire,” Husain said, referring to a 1967 fire in the Ecology House — then the off-campus, University-owned Cornell Residential Heights Club — in which nine people died. According to the University, at the time of the fire there were no fire escapes on the second floor, no fire detectors and no sprinkler system at the time of the fire.
Husain also said that there have been minor fires since. According to the University, there was a fire in Balch Hall in 2004 and another in the Low Rise dormitories on North campus in 2006. Both small fires were put out with sprinkler systems.
Campus Firewatch cited that there have been 129 campus-related fire fatalities nationwide since 2000. During the past academic year, 18 students died in fires, including the 2008 death of a student attending Tompkins Cortland Community College.
Cornell has its own Department of Environmental Health and Safety whose mission promotes “a safe learning, working and living environment for the University through the integration of programs and services we provide to faculty, staff and students” according to their website.
Last August, the department worked with local fire departments during R.A. training, according to the University. The training session included a mock-dorm fire to prove the importance of fire safety.
Keeping buildings and staff up-to-date is clearly a priority, but recent renovations indicate that it is difficult to maintain fire safety.
About previous renovations in Uris Library, Kenney explained, “The 1950s installation of heat detectors was a proactive initiative by Cornell to provide what was then a state-of-the-art fire safety system.”
Kenney cited that the Kinkledey Room was renovated in 2003, when the room was equipped with smoke detectors and sprinklers to meet then current fire codes.