New codes would ease historic renovations

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Current rules make it easier for developers to build new structures rather than preserve.

Cape Girardeau wants to adopt updated building codes by September that include new regulations designed to make it easier to remodel and renovate old buildings.

The city's seven-member board of appeals will hold a public hearing on the proposed building rules at 7 p.m. today at city hall.

Final approval rests with the city council.

The city of Jackson plans to adopt many of the same international building codes, but doesn't intend to follow Cape Girardeau's lead regarding renovations to old buildings.

"I don't think we have that type of construction anywhere near the extent they do," said Jackson building and planning superintendent Janet Sanders. "Unless we see a real need for that, we will probably just work within the regular building code."

But for Cape Girardeau, the regulations would make renovating old buildings more economical, thus assisting historic renovation downtown, said Robb McClary, director of inspection services for Cape Girardeau.

The city's existing building codes are designed for new construction, McClary said.

"Meeting a hallway width requirement, elevator shaft size, railing height or other standard is easy and has little impact on the cost of a project when building new," he said.

Remodeling an existing building can be more costly. In such cases, developers may opt to build a new structure rather than remodel an old building, McClary said.

The new rules regarding remodeling and renovation projects are patterned after rules that have been used in New Jersey for nearly eight years.

Cape Girardeau historic preservation consultant Terri Foley said the new rules are important in maintaining the architectural integrity of old buildings.

"You can't always move doors and windows," she said. Older buildings typically have narrower steps, which are part of the historic architecture and should be preserved, she said.

"My goal as a preservationist is not to comprise the safety of buildings, but to help property owners rehab buildings," she said.

Another change in the 2003 codes -- the latest international codes available to cities -- deals with basement exits.

The current regulations -- the 2000 code on new construction -- requires any finished room in a basement to have a window or door that can serve as an emergency exit.

Under the new code, an exit still will be required for each bedroom in a basement. But only one emergency exit would be required in a basement that has no sleeping room.

A basement with a bedroom and a family room would only have to have one window or door as an emergency exit, McClary said.

Residential contractor Mike Annis, who serves on Cape Girardeau's board of appeals, said he's satisfied with the proposed changes in building codes. Overall, he said, the 2003 code is similar to the 2000 code. The international code, which is used by many municipalities, is updated every three years.

"It's just a modification of the same building codes," he said.

It's a bigger change for Jackson, which is still operating under 1993 and 1993 building regulations.

Still, Jackson's Sanders said contractors are used to dealing with the 2000 code in Cape Girardeau and well aware that the 2003 regulations will be adopted.

335-6611, extension 123

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