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The Daily Tar Heel

Legislators Resist Sprinkler Laws

U.S. senators have had no success with their bill to require that sprinklers be placed in all residence halls.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and others have introduced legislation in Congress to install fire sprinklers in all campus residence halls.

But their efforts have been unsuccessful.

The fire sprinkler legislation would provide $100 million in matching federal funds to encourage universities to install sprinkler systems.

Opponents of the bill argue that fire regulations should be left to state governments, and universities should retain autonomy from the federal government.

Some states have instituted mandatory sprinkler requirements for all universities after a residence hall fire claimed the lives of students.

New Jersey legislation now requires all universities to install sprinkler heads in key places after a Seton Hall University had a fire that killed three students and injured 58 others in 2000.

Jeff Landry, Seton Hall associate director of housing and residential life, said the university now has sprinkler heads installed in all bedrooms, bathrooms, closets and hallways on campus.

"Parents and students feel better about the school and people certainly are more comfortable here," Landry said.

But New Jersey is one of the few states to have sprinkler requirements at all.

Michael Briggs, press secretary for Edwards, said legislation has been re-proposed by Edwards this session after it was defeated in 2000.

Briggs said Edwards is hopeful and determined to get legislation passed.

"We believe that in this day and age, with our sons and daughters in this country, there is a national interest to protect our students as much as possible," Briggs said.

But Landry said the national mood had changed and people are not as concerned about fires in residence halls as they once were.

"(Concern has) worn off now after the first six to 10 months; it's not in the forefront of people's minds anymore," he said.

Five years ago, the General Assembly provided $800,000 for UNC-Chapel Hill to add sprinkler systems to residence halls and issued a mandate encouraging schools to phase in the systems.

But Larry Hicks, associate director of residential education at UNC, said the mandate was not adequate and only provided 10 percent of the funds required to add fire sprinkler systems to all UNC residence halls.

As state and national governments continue to debate proposed legislation, schools like UNC have begun plans of their own.

Hicks said the university has a plan to install sprinkler systems in all UNC residence halls by 2010.

The renovations are projected to cost $20 million and will be funded primarily by UNC housing fees.

Sue Kitchen, UNC vice chancellor for student affairs, said the plan is based on the need of different residence halls.

"We've tried to prioritize where the sprinklers are most needed and acted accordingly," Kitchen said.

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The plan prioritizes residence halls based on factors such as wooden roofs or the structure of the building.

Hicks said another important consideration is renovating residence halls while still maintaining full enrollment.

"Our biggest issue is logistics -- trying to stage this while people are living in halls," he said.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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