Group studies changes to school building approval process in Alabama
The Alabama Legislature this year approved a bill to transfer oversight of school construction projects of $ 500,000 or less from a state agency to local school boards.
House Bill 220 did not change that state agency’s oversight – the Division of Construction Management – on school projects over $ 500,000. HB 220 has removed all community college projects, regardless of size, from DCM oversight.
Supporters of HB 220 said the requirement to submit plans to DCM for review and inspections slows projects down and increases costs.
But representatives from the construction industry and architectural groups, as well as the state association of fire chiefs, objected to the loss of oversight of DCM, saying it was ” a major independent review of safety and code compliance in school buildings.
Governor Kay Ivey, in response to these concerns, fired HB 220 with an executive amendment that delayed the change on Kindergarten to Grade 12 school projects until February 1. The Ivey Amendment also set up a task force to recommend ways to improve building surveillance. treat. Changes to the community college will not be affected. These take effect on August 1.
The study group met today at Alabama State House and voted to recommend the reinstatement of some DCM surveillance. Some members of the group said the recommendation did not go far enough.
Under the recommendation, for projects of $ 500,000 or less, school systems will submit plans to DCM for compliance with US disability law and fire and life safety codes. DCM would inspect the projects and make recommendations on any problems it found.
Alabaster Fire Chief Tim Love, president of the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs, said the proposal was insufficient because it gave DCM no enforcement authority over projects of $ 500,000 or less.
“There will be no capacity to execute on that $ 500,000 or less,” Love said. “These are recommendations. It is not an oversight. There is no application. From a personal safety point of view, this is what causes people to be killed.
Counties and cities do not have jurisdiction over the reviews and inspections of plans on state property and schools.
Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, sponsor of HB 220 and chair of the study group, said the reduced oversight by DCM would not lead to unsafe structures. Ledbetter said local school systems, architects and contractors will be responsible for ensuring buildings are designed and constructed according to code.
“They are looking at the project based on the possibility of completing it safely and quickly,” said Ledbetter. “
Pike Roads School Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter, a member of the study group, said the school system would consider itself legally, morally and ethically obligated to address identified issues with building codes. He said he viewed the school system and its contractors as responsible for enforcement.
Study group member AJ McCampbell representative D-Livingston said enforcement authority by DCM was important.
“If you don’t have an execution mechanism in place that will actually have the power to stop a project or let it go ahead, then this entrepreneur, and I’m not saying entrepreneurs are bad, but I don’t ‘I don’t think we’re going to let the wolf take care of the henhouse,’ McCampbell said.
“If this is to install a water cooler, there has to be something that will ensure that it is done under a code that will keep our children safe. “
McCampbell said that if there were problems with the DCM doing its job quickly and efficiently, then the solution should be for the agency to request more funding for additional resources, rather than the legislature relaxing some requirements for it. ‘examination and inspection.
Scott Rouse, general counsel for the Alabama Forestry Commission, told the study group the agency was not opposed to DCM’s oversight of building and safety codes, but said some had resulted in substantial cost increases, as in some of the commission’s county offices.
“Basically we got a severe shock with the decals over what it costs to build these things,” Rouse said.
Rouse said one of the main concerns of the commission was how long it took DCM to review construction contracts, a separate function from plan reviews and inspections. Rouse said the average over five projects over the past few years was around 53 days.
HB 220 does not exempt the Forestry Commission from DCM oversight.
John Montgomery, chief legal adviser to the Department of Finance and a member of the study group, said he believed DCM had been blamed for delays it had not necessarily caused. The average time to review plans by DCM from 2015 to 2019 was 6.4 days, according to DCM.
“I think they’re often blamed for delays that aren’t necessarily their fault, because it takes so many parts to complete these complex projects,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said the proposal approved today, requiring school systems to submit plans on ADA compliance and fire and life safety codes on projects under $ 500,000, was a step in the right direction, providing independent third-party review.
But the proposal also said that school systems would pay no fees for these exams. Montgomery asked how DCM could be expected to provide this service without the user fees it now relies on.
The group also today approved a recommendation to remove an exemption from DCM’s approval process for work on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and roofing projects. The recommendation is to allow this exemption only for HVAC and roofing projects of $ 500,000 or less.
The group rejected a proposal to increase the threshold for K-12 schools to use the DCM plan’s review and inspection process to $ 750,000.
The study group is required to send a report to the governor and legislative leaders by December 1 with recommendations for next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.
Today’s meeting was the second of two meetings required by the governor’s amendment. But Ledbetter urged group members to continue making proposals before the report is final.
Changes to the Alabama community college system will come into effect on August 1. Community colleges will have their own program to provide the services now provided by DCM.
Former state finance director Bill Newton told the study group today that he doesn’t think decentralizing the construction oversight process would be beneficial.
“I think it’s illogical to think that by decentralizing this code compliance function performance will improve,” Newton told the committee. “Logic tells me it will be worse. I consider House Bill 220 to be both illogical and reckless, and it will ultimately make public buildings in Alabama less safe.
Newton, who was chief financial officer under former Governor Robert Bentley, helped draft the bill that created the Division of Construction Management in 2015. Newton said the intent of this bill, sponsored by the Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston, was to centralize the responsibility for overseeing the construction project.
Newton said the 2015 bill also put in place a system in which school systems and other entities pay user fees for DCM’s review of the project. Previously, there were no fees because the Legislature funded the work through budget appropriations, he said.