Engineering in K-12 schools: Fire and life safety
Engineers offer practical advice and best practices on how to design fire and life safety systems in K-12 schools.
- Keith R. Hammelman, PE, Vice president, CannonDesign, Aurora, Ill.
- Robert V. Hedman, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Senior associate, Kohler Ronan LLC, Danbury, Conn.
- Pete Jefferson, PE, LEED AP, HBDP, Principal/vice president, M.E. Group, Overland Park, Kan.
- Essi Najafi, Principal, Global Engineering Solutions, Rockville, Md.
- Rodney V. Oathout, PE, CEM, LEED AP, Regional engineering leader/principal, DLR Group, Overland Park, Kan.
- Sunondo Roy, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice president, CCJM Engineers, Chicago, Il.
CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified or designed in K-12 schools?
Oathout: The proliferation of technology within K-12 facilities creates a need for rooms that look more like data centers and less like closets. We have started treating the room that houses the IT equipment like a data center, including specifying gaseous and pre-action fire suppression systems.
Hedman: K-12 schools are no longer the one- or two-story, flat roof design buildings of the past. Over recent years these educational occupancies have required intricate fire protection design considerations due to ornate, “cloud” ceilings (requiring multiple levels of sprinklers). In addition, atriums and multi-story open corridors with glazing, requiring specific wall ratings, mandate the installation of listed window sprinklers. Theaters and data centers within schools are also becoming more significant, further increasing the complexity of fire protection systems. Fire standpipe systems can be required within the theaters (as well as due to the size of the overall building) and sprinkler coordination with acoustical panels, scenery, and catwalks is a must. In addition to theaters, school data/IT rooms are also being considered vital rooms, and owners are evaluating the need for pre-action and gaseous systems. Due to the overall fire protection demand, fire pumps (either electric or diesel) are also becoming more prevalent.
Najafi: For the most part the sprinkler systems that we have been required to design for our various school projects have all been the conventional automatic wet-pipe sprinkler systems. For a few of our school projects, there has been a parking garage that requires the design of conventional automatic dry-pipe sprinkler systems. On a recent project, we were asked by the client to consider a specialty system for its art storage room and display areas. The system the client asked about is a water mist system. The client believes this type of system will mitigate or lessen the potential water damage to sensitive displays and art exhibits. We are studying this approach and also considering alternative clean agent systems for this application.
CSE: How have the costs and complexity of fire protection systems changed in recent years?
Najafi: Generally speaking, the overall cost of both new installations and existing system modifications has maintained a parallel path with inflation. There have been improvements in some of the system components by manufacturers that have contributed to some savings in material costs, but the major impact to cost has been labor. The complexity of the sprinkler systems has not seen much, if any, change over the years. The basic systems design has been the same for the past 50-plus years. Installation requirements have always been modified to maintain compliance with jurisdictional authorities’ code mandates.
Hedman: As a result of the architectural detail and overall quality included within K-12 schools today, fire protection costs have increased for new schools as well as renovated educational facilities. Aesthetics, including custom paint colors and welded piping (no visible elbows/fittings) have also been desired. Fire safety is no longer simply based on code; it includes insurance carriers’ and owner’s requirements. Furthermore, the public tends to expect this higher level of safety for their children.
CSE: Describe a recent project in which a mass notification system (MNS) or emergency communication system (ECS) was specified.
Hedman: One challenge is to balance the level of security as not to interfere with the normal operations of the school day. In a recent project we provided panic buttons in all administration areas, exterior speakers for emergency notifications, and microphones for two-way communication located in secured areas. Integrating these devices within the architectural finishes provided security discretely.