Facility preparing for upgrade

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When the Concordia Board of Aldermen discussed the need for an improved fire suppression system at Lutheran Good Shepherd Home earlier this month, it was the first many in the community had heard about the situation. For Administrator Mark Schulze, however, the project has been on the horizon since 2000.

Schulze said the requirement that all residential facilities with more than 20 beds have sprinklers was part of a government regulation put forward in the 2000 Life Safety Code. Schulze's copy of the codebook is well worn with an impressive array of Post-It notes coming out in all directions.

"If I were a minister, this would be my Bible," he said.

In Missouri, the requirement for sprinklers didn't come to the forefront until 2008. That year, a deadly fire at a nursing home in Anderson prompted state lawmakers to mandate sprinklers by Dec. 31, 2012.

Schulze said that the original facility and each of the additions were built to the existing code at the time of their construction. Since sprinklers weren't mandated, they weren't included, he said.

That leaves the Good Shepherd Home with the task of retrofitting sprinklers into its buildings. Schulze said the initial government estimate for the project was between $7 and $8 per square foot. Given the size of the buildings in question, the total project cost came to $750,000.

Schulze said that estimate represents a significant cost for the not-for-profit operation. He noted the facility's entire annual budget is $6 million, more than half of which goes into payroll for its 167 employees.

In order to apply for grant funding to help with the project, engineering work had to be completed. Schulze said Poole Fire Protection of Kansas City was hired and actually came back with some good news.

The company developed a plan for a system that will meet the state requirements at a substantially lower cost. As proposed, the system should cost about $358,000.

Schulze said the piping will be installed below ceiling level, but will be concealed for aesthetics. He said the design calls for an easier and cleaner installation process and by not using the attic, no additional heating will be required.

In addition to the private engineering firm, Schulze said he has been in close contact with City Administrator Dale Kluss-man and the city's engineers. For years, the city has struggled to maintain good water pressure and volume in the area of the Good Shepherd Home and the new state regulations have served as a motivation in improving the city's water mains in that neighborhood.

In addition to working with city personnel, Schulze said he has been in contact with Pioneer Trails Regional Development and local grant writing consultant Patty Hasselbring. He said this interaction is typical for the Good Shepherd Home, which has a long history of being an active member of the community.

Schulze noted for more than 35 years the Good Shepherd Home served as the dispatch for the Concordia Fire Department and ambulance service. The facility provided the town's first Meals on Wheels service and, thanks to its generators is an emergency evacuation point for Concordia Elementary School.

Schulze said since news of the new requirement broke he has had inquiries from a number of people wanting to know what they could do to help. He said people are surprised at the level of government regulation.

"It's mind boggling," he said.

Schulze said he has met with lawmakers at both the state and federal level, but has not gotten any firm commitment for assistance. He said bills that would make grants or loans available have been presented, but they never make it out of committee.

"It just upsets me so much that a lot of this stimulus money has gone to other places where you don't really see it," Schulze said.

Adding to the frustration is the fact the sprinkler requirement comes on the heels of several other projects in recent years. Immediately following the 2008 fire in Anderson, the facility had to complete an upgrade to its fire alarms and a change in federal regulations required a $44,000 project to replace the facility's doors. Another regulatory change prompted $20,000 in modifications to the building's freight elevator.

The biggest project, however, involved boring out 274 feet of sewer line running directly underneath the foundation of the building. That project alone cost more than $200,000.

At the present time, there are no waivers or exceptions for the sprinkler requirements, Schulze said. However, he is confident that the Good Shepherd Home will meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

"One way or another, we're going to get that sprinkler system in," he said.

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