Manchester high-rise turns to Senate to fight sprinkler system order

Should a Manchester condominium be the only high-rise in New Hampshire without a sprinkler system? Or should the residents — who have been fighting installation of the system for years — be required to shell out about $15,000 apiece to do the work?That was the question that confronted the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday at a hearing on a bill that would exempt condos from sprinkler requirements.The issue has been simmering, so to speak, since 2006, when the Manchester Fire Department informed the condo association of 55 River Rd. that it had to install a system — a retroactive building code requirement, at least when it comes to high-rise apartment buildings.Imagine that the chief came to your house and required you to spend $15,000, asked Jeff Demers, president of the association. Where would that money come from?”You no longer pay for your child’s education? You no longer pay for your medicine?” he asked.The building, said Demers, is primarily made of concrete and steel. The risk is minimal, and everyone who bought in was aware that there was no sprinkler system.The residents are asking the Senate to pass Senate Bill 335, which would allow the condo association to vote on the installation.”Give the owner the right to decide,” said John Cronin, an attorney representing the residents. “That’s where the decision should rest. It should be up to them, if they want to take the risk.”Future residents could always change their mind and put in the system, Cronin said.But state Fire Marshal J. William Degnan said that, when it comes to life and death, a majority in the building can’t put such a risk on other residents who disagreed or didn’t vote.”I oppose this bill because it singles out this one high-rise in the state,” he said. “All the other high-rises are sprinkled, including the state’s own.”Degnan added, “I do recognize the financial hardship” and that he be willing to do this slowly so that the cost is spread over time and the sprinkler systems restricted to common areas.And, yes there is a lot of concrete and steel, he said, but the problem is that materials in each household burn quicker and hotter, and fire could spread to other apartments.In 2006, the city said it would allow the association to reach compliance over a 12-year period, said Manchester Fire Chief James A. Burkush. Burkush said he was willing to extend that a little further, but the condo association wanted 25 years, and that “is a bit too far,” he said.All the other of the city’s 23 high-rises have complied with the code, the chief said, and with budget cuts decimating the his department’s budget, it doesn’t make sense to forego sprinklers.”A building when it burns doesn’t know whether it’s a condo or a regular high-rise,” Burkush said.But other buildings have owners, argued the residents. In a condo, the residents themselves own the building, and some of them just don’t have thousands of dollars sitting around.”Where we going to get $10,000?” said Susan Guirino, another resident. “Some of us just don’t have it. We can’t even sell because of this big sprinkler issue hanging over us.” — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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