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Emergency Rule on School Construction Allows Planned Projects to Go Forward

June 15, 2017

The Storm Shelter Requirement and Problems with Its Implementation

The 2015 Michigan Building Code, which became effective in April 2017, requires public schools to construct storm shelters capable of accommodating every occupant of a school building in the event of high winds or a tornado. This provision applies to all schools that are building a new school building or implementing a significant renovation or expansion project to an existing school building. This new Code has created significant problems for schools that have building projects currently in the planning stages because they must now adapt existing funding plans and design documents to meet this new storm shelter requirement.

LARA Issues an Emergency Rule Allowing Construction to Begin

On June 13, 2017, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs ("LARA") issued an emergency rule that exempts schools from the storm shelter requirement until December of 2017. LARA issued the emergency rule to "allow proposed public school construction projects to commence for the 2017 summer construction season . . . allowing renovations and thus timely school openings." Specifically, LARA amended Rule 401 – which incorporates portions of the international building code and the storm shelter requirements – to eliminate the storm shelter requirement for the next six (6) months. LARA noted that revised design plans and additional bond or sinking funds would have been necessary for renovation projects already underway in order to meet the storm shelter mandate; this would have created an undue burden on local communities seeking to expand their schools to safely accommodate growing student populations.

What the Emergency Rule Means for You

Given that the summer construction season is almost underway in Michigan, LARA decided to act quickly by addressing the storm shelter issue via an emergency rule, rather than a permanent one. This means that additional action from LARA or the legislature is required to completely eliminate the rule. Still, at least for now, it seems that LARA is aware of the regulatory burden that the storm shelter requirement places on schools undergoing new construction or renovation and expansion of existing buildings as well how it might interfere with schools' planned use of bond and/or sinking funds.

Schools should note that projects after December of 2017 will have to follow the storm shelter rule unless additional action is taken in the interim. For those schools planning immediate construction over the summer, however, the emergency rule from LARA is likely welcome news. 

If you have any questions about these or other issues in connection with the design or use of current or future school buildings, please contact Dana L. Abrahams at | (248) 988-5840, or another member of Clark Hill's Education Practice Group. 

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