Portsmouth senior center gets 1-year reprieve from appeals board

Sprinklers would cost $500,000, manager says

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/25/20

PORTSMOUTH — Unless the town chooses to spend half a million dollars to install a sprinkler system at the Portsmouth Multi-Purpose Senior Center, the building’s days may indeed be …

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Portsmouth senior center gets 1-year reprieve from appeals board

Sprinklers would cost $500,000, manager says

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Unless the town chooses to spend half a million dollars to install a sprinkler system at the Portsmouth Multi-Purpose Senior Center, the building’s days may indeed be numbered — 491 days, to be exact.

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. told the Town Council Monday night that 21 of 35 fire code violations found in the building last year have since been corrected to the satisfaction of the state fire marshal.

Eleven of the outstanding violations will be corrected “within the next 60 days,” Mr. Rainer said.

At a recent hearing before the State Fire Safety Code board of Appeal and Review, the board granted variances for the remaining three violations: 

• building sprinklers

• headroom clearance at the front door

• kitchen plenum and duct system work

The variances for those three violations, however, all expire on June 30, 2021. 

“This means the senior center is allowed to continue using the building for one more year,” the administrator said. “There either has to be a sprinkler system or we can’t use the building.”

The senior center was cited for the fire code violations last fall and given 30 days to remove everything from the second floor — which had been used just for storage — and to address other issues within that timeframe.

Mr. Rainer said the town could possibly address the violations having to do with headroom clearance and the kitchen, but the sprinkler system may be too expensive.

“I don’t see it happening,” he said after the meeting. “We could put sprinklers in the building, if the council wants to do that. But it doesn’t make sense. That’s like putting a new engine in an old car. Do we really want to do that, and do new paint, fix the walls, fix the ceilings, fix the floors — do all that stuff? And by then, we’ve almost got a new building.”

Mr. Rainer said he spoke with Newport City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. a while back about the city’s experience in renovating the former Sheffield School.

“His caution to me was, when you’re rehabbing an old building, you’re going to find things you didn’t expect,” he said.

Future of building

The sprinkler issue will surely be a factor in the town’s decision-making regarding the building’s future. According to the results of a community needs assessment survey, many respondents said they’d like to see a new senior center and community center under the same roof. Another option, Mr. Rainer has previously said, would be to have a separate, new-and-improved senior center. 

“Over the next year, in conjunction with the senior center organization, we will attempt to develop alternative courses of action for your consideration,” Mr. Rainer told the council.

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