School Construction While School is in Session
When a construction project takes place in or on an occupied building, plans and specifications must assure that work sites are completely isolated from occupied areas of the building. Precautions must be taken to ensure that work site and operations hazards will not affect building occupants. Further, existing exits from occupied portions of buildings must be continuously maintained or alternative exits provided. Existing fire safety systems, such as fire alarms and exit and emergency lights, must be continuously maintained or provisions made to provide equivalent safety. In addition, the fire department must be notified of any non-operating systems.
The above guidelines are from the Instruction Guide for Obtaining a Building Permit and Approval of Plans and Specifications by the Commissioner of Education. This Guide is part of the package sent to school districts for every capital construction project processed by the Office of Facilities Planning. Even so, the Department receives many complaints related to renovation or addition work being performed in an occupied building. Complaints typically involve unfinished work in classrooms or corridors, dust, solvent or paint odors, and illness during construction. Failure to separate construction areas from work areas; unattended or unsecured construction equipment; and inappropriate or unauthorized use of school facilities, such as student toilets used by construction personnel, also cause problems.
The New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code is specific about exiting and ventilation requirements. Construction projects must not jeopardize the health and safety of building occupants or construction crews. To assist district personnel, architects and engineers involved with construction projects in or near occupied buildings, the following information will be required for all building projects submitted to the Office of Facilities Planning:
- A plan detailing how exiting, ventilation, physical isolation, and safety features required by the Fire Inspection Report will be maintained during construction. The plan should indicate temporary construction, including HVAC intake and/or discharge relocations, required to isolate construction equipment, materials, people, dust, fumes, odors, and noise during the construction period. Temporary construction details should meet Code required fire ratings for separation and corridor enclosure. At a minimum, required exits, temporary stairs, ramps, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, illuminated exit signs, door hardware, and smooth continuous floor surfaces should be provided at all times.
- We suggest the district have a contingency plan for relocation or release of students and staff if the above precautions fail to provide required isolation.
- We strongly suggest schedules of work and occupancy include time for "baking out" of volatile organic compounds introduced during construction. This includes construction materials, furniture and furnishings, such as carpeting wall coverings and drapery.
Architects and engineers should consult the following documents: 155.3h of the
Commissioner's Regulations; New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code including, but not limited to, sections 606.3a (exit), 607, 608, 771.4g & T II-771; Code Reference Standards (RS-54-1); NFPA Life Safety Code 1-6.2, 2, & 31-1.1; and (RS-1-3) NFPA Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations 241-1986. If you have questions, call Facilities Planning at (518) 474-3906.