Clubs Balk At Sprinkler Costs

More than 100 establishments in Massachusetts are appealing a state mandate to install sprinklers. Bars and clubs say the law, set in place following the tragic nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I., is too costly.

The state Automatic Sprinkler Appeals Board has issued formal decisions in 12 cases and reversed fire chiefs’ orders in six, according to The Boston Globe. The 2004 law requires bars and nightclubs with capacities of 100 or more to install sprinklers by November 2007, but the cost to do so appears to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to examples listed in the paper.

For instance, retired firefighters who run a private club in Lawrence decided to set an example by following the law, the paper said. They installed sprinklers in the Relief’s In, which includes a 250-seat room and a 100-capacity bar. The firefighters reported a cost of $24,000 to install the sprinklers and expect to pay $10,000 more to hook the system up to the water main.

Lawrence’s mayor and fire chief recently held a press conference at the club to promote the law, but the establishment’s treasurer admitted to the Globe that setting the example was pretty difficult.

“This has strapped us for sure,” he said. “We had to dip pretty deep into our savings to do this.”

A firefighter added that the club’s owners “knew the law was coming, and we knew that eventually we’d have to comply so, we figured, why not take the lead?”

Maurice Pilette, chairman of the state’s appeals board, told the paper that the cost of retrofitting a club could be about $5 per square foot, not including the cost of connecting the system to the water main. The legislation asked for the state to investigate making low-cost loans available to business or building owners, but no loans are currently available, the Globe said.

The appeals board can waive the sprinkler requirement for a club owners who argue the law would put them out of business, but so far no venue has been exempted, Pilette said.

A provision in the state tax code might allow owners to write off the sprinkler installation cost over five years rather than the standard 29 years, state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan told the paper.

West Warwick club The Station burned to the ground in early 2003, killing 100 and injuring about 200 more. The fire began after a tour manager for Great White launched pyrotechnics in the venue. Forty of the dead were from Massachusetts.