Superintendent Jim Haynes said the school was notified of the delay on Friday, Jan. 27. Construction cannot resume until the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal has completed and approved the fire safety inspection.
COMMERCE— The construction of the new Commerce Middle School and the two storm shelters has been brought to a standstill because of lack of fire safety permits.
Superintendent Jim Haynes said the school was notified of the delay on Friday, Jan. 27. Construction cannot resume until the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal (OSFM) has completed and approved the fire safety inspection.
“The project has been put on hold until the fire marshals review the plans,” Haynes said. “The reason was the plans hadn't been approved by the fire marshal and there was some confusion. The city had issued a building permit, but the part that the fire marshal was reviewing wasn't covered under that permit. The fire marshal has to review the plans before we can go ahead and proceed.”
Crossland Construction is the construction manager for the building bond projects and is currently providing information to the state fire marshal. A construction manager is in charge of the overall planning, coordination and control of a project from beginning to end. The manager works to meet the client's requirements in order to produce a functionally and financially viable project.
According to school and city sources, the architect on a project is the entity that normally submits the building designs for fire safety approval, which is overseen by the construction manager.
“Anytime something like that happens, no matter what, it’s an issue of the leader,” said Commerce city engineer Jack Dalrymple. “It’s like when you lose a battle, it’s always the general’s fault. The architect is supposed to look online whether the city inspects or not, and if the city doesn’t inspect, it will not be listed.
“If the city they’re working at doesn’t inspect, then the architect sends a set of plans to the fire marshal, the fire marshal reviews the plans and then signs off on them,” Dalrymple added. “At 50 percent, he comes and inspects and at 100 percent, he comes and inspects.”
“The architect generally submits that for approval but they thought since the city had done the building permit that everything was good to go, and it's still required that the fire marshall approves the plans,” Haynes said. “The fire marshals are reviewing them, so we're on hold until we complete that process.”
A city official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the City of Commerce granted the building permit for the project, which only covers the city’s codes and infrastructure. It does not cover state fire marshal inspections.
“What was supposed to have happened, either the contractor or architect is supposed to get with the state fire marshal before anything starts to find out if the city they’re working in has the authority of those inspections or if it's the authority of the fire marshal,” said the city official. “Those guys never bothered to see who had what authority and they just took it that our permits covered everything and it didn’t. It was supposed to have been approved by the fire marshal long before now, but they didn’t do all of the steps they were supposed to do.”
The official said since the City of Commerce has less than 3,000 people, it doesn’t have the manpower or the finances to be able to have an inspector qualified to complete the fire marshal inspections.
According to the city official, the state fire marshals look at life safety codes.
“They look at the means of ingress, so if there is a fire, is the number of doors compatible or adequate for escape and if they are, do they go to an area that people can get out of the way,” the city official said. “It’s a whole plan review.”
TriArch Architecture, the architect for the building bond projects, said it was implied that the city performed its own fire safety inspections.
“We had approval from the city, at that point,” said Scott Vrooman, owner and principal architect of TriArch. “The city had implied that they would be taking jurisdiction of our start process. It wasn’t until recently that the city had clarified that they’re not going to take jurisdiction over the life safety issues.”
According to Vrooman, Crossland Construction received building permits from the City of Commerce to start construction of the school project in August of 2016.
“At that time, the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal (OSFM) allowed the city to have the option to issue full life safety code review permits,” Vrooman said. “It’s pretty typical. In a rural municipality like that, they will say, ‘If you want to have domain over that, we’ll let you. If not, then we’ll take it over.’ Since then, the City of Commerce has chosen not to exercise that jurisdiction, so the final review process has switched over to the OSFM. It has not been reviewed yet and it is in their possession and it’s under review. They’re the one who came up and their inspector said we have to stop until we get through this review process.
“It’s important to note that the City of Commerce has reviewed all of the plans and had signed off on them,” he added.
Multiple sources have confirmed that the city or the school is not responsible for the delay.
“The City of Commerce has been very supportive of us and have done their duty,” said Kevin Reading, Board of Education president. “When it comes down to it, they are not responsible for this shut down in any way.”
Vrooman said that TriArch has been told that the OSFM will start the review process on Wednesday and should be completed by early next week, allowing construction to start again.
With this new delay, the school board is worried about additional costs and not finishing the new middle school in time for the new school year. In December’s school board meeting, the middle school was projected to be completed by early August. The elementary and high school safe rooms were set to be completed by May 15.
“If the storm shelters move back from the end of May to the end of June, that doesn’t affect us,” Reading said. “If the middle school moves from Aug. 1 to Aug. 14, that’s an effect.”
Reading said the middle school needs to be completed on time because the modular buildings will be removed at the end of the school year.
“We will not have the buildings sitting there for three months and have to pay rent on them to start school in them next year,” Reading said. “We have to start school in our new school. We have no choice. It’s $8,000-$10,000 a month for those trailers.
“If we get school started in the old building, we can’t move in until Christmas because the teachers need two or three weeks to take everything out and put in their new building,” he added. “Delays could very much have a financial impact on somebody. If something happens, we may have to take a look at how we can recoup our extra costs because there is nothing that the school has done. We have done our job. Somebody else is responsible.”
According to the city official and several other sources, the same situation occurred during the Newell Coach construction process.
“They did the same thing at Newell,” the city official said. “Crossland got the building built, and then the fire marshal came in and had to do a plan review, so this has happened before. It caused a delay in handing over the building from Crossland to Newell because they didn’t do the state inspection, either. Crossland should’ve been well aware that Commerce did not have the ability to do those inspections.”
The official said the city will be changing its policy and require contractors to have a fire marshal safety permit before the city issues any permits to prevent this incident from happening again.
Attempts were made to contact Crossland Construction but were unsuccessful. The Oklahoma State Fire Marshal could not be reached as of press time.
Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound