Special to CONTRACTOR
AUSTIN, TEXAS — The University of Texas at Austin is in the midst of a major fire sprinkler retrofit project that is scheduled to be completed in 2006. The school has installed sprinklers in six residence halls with three more scheduled for completion by September. Four more are to be completed in phases by 2006.
Western States Fire Protection is handling the installation out of its Austin office. The initial system layout for bidding was prepared by Schirmer Engineering. Western States did the hydraulic calculations, pipe sizing and shop drawings, which are being reviewed and approved by Schirmer.
The sprinkler retrofits at UT-Austin are even more stringent than required by the state fire marshal’s office, which requires sprinklers only in high-rise dormitories.
In 1996, the fire marshal’s office adopted the 1994 edition of the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code 101 as the fire code that applies to university buildings, regardless of when the buildings were constructed, explained Doug Garrard, associate director of the Division of Housing and Food Service. The school now follows the 2000 edition.
“Jester Center is our only high-rise – above seven stories – housing 3,000 residents,” Garrard said.
“Since Jester Residence Hall was constructed in 1969, the state fire marshal identified some conditions in Jester that did not comply with the recently adopted fire code. To meet the timeline identified by the fire marshal, we installed sprinklers in Jester Center while it was occupied. All other buildings are being done during summer months when vacant. San Jacinto Hall, our newest facility, opened in 2000 and was constructed with sprinklers and state-of-the-art fire systems.”
Because Jester was retrofitted while it was occupied, it was the only dormitory retrofitted using CPVC because it was cleaner than threading pipe on the floors. Soffits had to be constructed to shield the pipe from sunlight and to better protect the piping within student rooms. All the other buildings use black iron. The retrofit of Jester cost $10 million.
The fire marshal mandated sprinkling of high-rises in 1998 following high-rise dorm fires at Texas Tech in 1997 and Texas A&M in 1998.
The retrofits have been complicated by the age, design and historic value of the buildings. Littlefield Hall, for example, was completed in 1926. Western States has run pipes through student rooms and closets, where possible, to keep them out of hallways, but in many cases the design of the building necessitated exposed piping. Pipes will be painted to match room colors.
Since 1995 the Austin campus has spent more than $2.5 million to upgrade fire detection systems in all the university residence halls and is spending an additional $18 million to sprinkler all the residence halls. The school has already spent $11.5 million on sprinklers with the rest to be spent in phases.
The university also has installed other measures such as hard-wired smoke detectors, egress doors, fire separations and fire stopping, room-door closing mechanisms and pull stations.
The school has banned candles, incense, smoking, unapproved electrical appliances, extension cords and holiday lights. Housing staff also inspects the dorms on a set schedule and conducts fire drills.
The university has 13 residence halls comprising nearly 1.7 million sq. ft. and housing 6,500 residents.