At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Aug. 16, New Hope Borough Council will hear from the public on a proposal to amend local building code ordinances by adopting Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code (UCC) standards pertaining to “uncertified buildings.”
What’s an “uncertified building”?
It’s defined in state UCC as being an edifice that was “built before April 27, 1927,” and it’s considered legally occupied until the owner proposes to “renovate, add an addition, alter or change the occupancy of the building.” That modification must comply with the UCC.
That means the building owner proposing a modification would have to conform to “maximum story height, minimum allowable construction type based on floor area, vertical opening and shaft protection requirements, and exit requirements calling for a minimum number of exits, maximum travel distances to exits, egress illumination, minimum widths and heights for exit doors, exit stairs, exit ramps and exit corridors requirements.”
Under the proposed ordinance, owners of “uncertified buildings” seeking changes would also have to meet state standards for fire alarms, fire extinguishers, heat and smoke detectors, automatic sprinkler systems and occupancy and “incidental use separations.”
Aside from April 27, 1927, under Pensylvania’s UCC, there are several other trigger dates for owners of older buildings seeking to alter or modify their structure.
For example, if construction began on a building before May 19, 1984, the installation of automatic sprinkler systems is not required. But if construction began after May 19, 1984 automatic sprinklers are required if the building is classified as educational, high-hazard, institutional, or R-1 or R-2 (residential), or if the building has occupied floors more than 75 feet above lowest level of fire department access.
And if construction of a building began after May 18, 1984, automatic sprinklers should be installed, unless construction began before Sept. 1 , 1965 — then there’s no accessibility requirements.
But, under the Pa. UCC, should construction of the building have begun after Aug. 31, 1965, and before Feb. 18, 1989, and if the building is state owned, a restaurant, or a retail commercial establishment, the building must have at least one accessible main entrance, an accessible route to any public spaces on the same level and, if toilets are provided, there must be at least one toilet room for each sex, or a unisex toilet room.
State UCC goes on to say that additional new structural requirements will not be imposed unless the building is “dangerous,” in which case “only those structural requirements minimally necessary to remove danger to the building’s occupants will be imposed.”
What does all that mean? The borough’s lawyer believes it will help make the construction proposal process for older buildings more consistent, rational and fair.
Building owners who anticipate renovating or changing the occupancy of their structures should consider attending the Borough Council meeting to decide for themselves on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 7:30 p.m., in the New Hope community room at 125 New St.