By STEVEN NALLEY
Representatives from the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning recently reported Mississippi State University is the only school in the state to meet its directive for sprinkler systems in every dormitory, fraternity and sorority, more than eight years after the University of Mississippi fraternity house fire that precipitated the requirement.
Three Ole Miss students died in August 2004 from a fire at the university’s Alpha Tau Omega house, which did not have a sprinkler system at the time. Mississippi legislators passed a law in 2005 requiring fire alarms and smoke detectors in all sorority and fraternity houses on state property. Bill Kibler, MSU vice president for student affairs, said the IHL Board’s response was more nuanced.
“IHL issued their directive in 2005, directing that each university submit a plan to IHL for installing sprinkler systems in all residence halls and all fraternity and sorority houses located on university property,” Kibler said. “IHL did not set a specific deadline at the time, but rather reviewed each institution’s plan in terms of time frame and cost and then approved or did not approve the plan.”
MSU submitted a plan to meet the directive by 2011 that IHL accepted, Kibler said, and MSU finished the job early, with sprinklers in all residence halls and in all on-campus Greek houses by 2010. Since 2005, MSU has installed sprinklers in 10 residence halls — three old buildings and seven newly constructed during the period — for approximately $3 million, he said.
“Immediately upon receiving the directive from IHL, we began working with the house corporations of all of our on-campus Greek houses that were not sprinkled,” Kibler said. “At that time, seven of our Greek houses had sprinkler systems and 12 did not. The 12 all submitted plans for installing sprinkler systems in their houses. All those projects but one were completed by 2009, while that one finished in 2010, at a total cost of about $250,000.”
Since then, Kibler said, MSU has constructed one new Greek house with sprinklers, bringing the total to 20. He said MSU started the project with four residential halls with no sprinklers, and while three received sprinklers, one was torn down.
“Installing sprinklers in older buildings presents unique challenges because it is generally not possible or practical to install the pressurized water lines behind the walls and in the ceilings (as) is easily possible in new construction,” Kibler said. “So, generally, those lines are run along walls and ceilings as unobtrusively as possible.”
The IHL board reported seven fraternity houses at Ole Miss still lack sprinklers, and in September, Ole Miss gave those fraternities an Aug. 1 deadline to install sprinklers or face eviction. The IHL board also reported that several universities had at least one dorm with no sprinklers, including Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Mississippi University for Women. Nora Miller, MUW senior vice president for administration, said the two buildings with no sprinklers are Callaway Hall and Grossnickle Hall.
“Our current request for bond funding from the legislature includes a $6.6 million request for ADA code compliance and campus safety,” Miller said. “Of that, approximately $1 million is for Callaway and Grossnickle fire suppression. Over the past several years, we have installed fire suppression during the summer when the residence hall is unoccupied. Callaway Hall will require asbestos abatement prior to the installation of a fire suppression system, making that project a two-summer project.”
Another factor, Miller said, is that Callaway and Grossnickle are both on the National Register of Historic Places. Four of MUW’s eight occupied residence halls are historic buildings, she said.
“The other two historic residence halls — Columbus Hall and Hastings-Simmons Hall — had major renovations, including the installation of fire suppression systems, in the 1990s and in 2001,” Miller said. “MUW students are housed in six of these buildings, and Mississippi School of Math and Science students occupy the other two residence halls. Since 2009, MUW has installed fire suppression systems in four residence halls, including the two MSMS residence halls.”