Courthouse fire safety

(From left) Grand Island Fire Prevention Chief Fred Hotz, Hall County Facilities Director Loren “Doone” Humphrey and Brad Kissler, an architect with CMBA Architects, speak to the Hall County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday. The board voted 7-0 to have Kissler look into the possibility of additional outside stairs and a refuge area at the Hall County Courthouse to address fire safety issues. (Independent/Austin Koeller)

Hall County is moving forward with addressing fire safety issues at the courthouse.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Hall County Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 to have Brad Kissler, an architect with CMBA Architects, complete two separate studies to look at the outside stairs of the courthouse and a refuge area for the handicapped. The motion also called for Kissler to give the board a price on a fire suppression system from the first floor up.

Grand Island Fire Prevention Chief Fred Hotz told the board at its April 30 meeting that he is concerned about exits on each floor of the courthouse.

On the third floor, Hotz said, there is only one way of exit, with nearly 200 people on this floor at any given time. At its May 28 meeting, the board voted to hire CMBA Architects to assist it in addressing the fire safety issues at the courthouse.

Hotz and Kissler spoke to the board Tuesday morning about how to address the issues.

An ad hoc committee made up of Supervisors Karen Bredthauer, Gary Quandt and Jane Richardson met with Hall County Facilities Director Loren “Doone” Humphrey, Hotz and Grand Island Building Department Director Craig Lewis on May 17 to speak by phone with Jill Dolberg of the Nebraska State Historical Preservation Office about the fire safety issues. The committee met again on June 4, but Richardson was absent.

“From that discussion, there were two possibilities: the fire suppression system or the egress,” Humphrey said. “We determined having two egresses on the third floor would help satisfy fire safety for the majority of people who are in the courthouse. We still have the issues of people being in shackles and people with disabilities being able to egress to the third floor.”

Hotz said having two egresses from the third floor would be a solution to the fire safety issues. He believes that if the board decided to create an interior egress, it would need a sprinkler system to make it work.

Richardson asked Hotz what the plan is for helping a wheelchair-bound person in the event of a fire if the courthouse only has outside steps.

He said that in older buildings without Americans With Disabilities Act accommodations, those people rely on others to help them down the stairs.

“In this situation, we would increase the ability for people to help people down the stairs, but we would not create actual ramps or elevators,” Hotz said. “However, it would still meet ADA requirements.”

Supervisor Ron Peterson asked if it is possible to put an outdoor landing far enough out where people in wheelchairs could sit while help arrives in the event of a fire.

“I wouldn’t say it is not a possibility at this point,” Kissler said. “We could certainly look into that. Even in a brand-new building, elevators are not how handicapped people get out (in the event of a fire). They have to go to a handicapped area designed for them to wait for assistance. That is typically inside the building.”

Bredthauer said she recently attended a Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO) conference and spoke with a number of county officials from across the state. Of the 14 counties’ officials she spoke with, one county tore down its courthouse and built a new one. Of the remaining 13 county courthouses, 12 have some form of egress on either exit, or were built with two sets of stairs from the top floor.

Supervisor Gary Quandt said one cost estimate being thrown out for the fire suppression system is $1 million.

In a few years, it is likely Hall County may need more courtrooms, Quandt said. With an addition, the issues of congestion on the third floor and handicapped accessibility would be alleviated, meaning the county would not have to spend $1 million on a fire suppression system.

Supervisor Butch Hurst said that with Hall County taking on the cost of new windows, steps and a fire suppression system, it may be time to look at the building costs for a new courthouse.

“Right now, you are heating and cooling a great big hole in the middle of the building that is never going to have any more office space,” he said. “We are kicking the can down the road. We are going to keep throwing money at this building and we are still not going to get any more room. It is something I think we need to address. If we spend $1 million on fire suppression, I think that is ridiculous.”

In other action, the Hall County board:

— Voted 7-0 to send a letter to owners of lots in Meadow Lane Subdivision concerning storm water drainage.

— Voted 7-0 to approve moving a position at the Hall County Sheriff’s Department from part time to full time. Sheriff Rick Conrad said the county would not have additional health insurance costs for the employee at this time.

— Heard an update from Conrad and Central Nebraska Humane Society personnel on the status of the shelter.

— Voted 6-1, with Supervisor Dick Hartman voting no, to approve buying an upgraded skid steer for the Hall County Department of Corrections.

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