Plan requiring automatic sprinkler systems in all Minnesota high-rise buildings unveiled

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A bill that could save lives is starting to get traction a week ahead of the 2020 legislative session. If it passes, all high-rises in Minnesota will need to have a sprinkler system.

It's an initiative that's been pushed before – the current bill sponsors say similar legislation was vetoed in the early '90s; funding was the issue then. Now, nearly 20 years later, that will likely be the bill's toughest challenge when the 2020 legislative session begins on Feb. 11. 

The added attention to the need for sprinklers in Minnesota high-rises comes after five people died in a fire at Cedar High Apartments in November.

The author of the bill, State Representative Mohamud Noor (DFL-60B), said this is something they've been working on for a while – but the November fire has sparked the new push.

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"We owe it to the families of those we lost in the Cedar Apartments, and to the firefighters who have had to respond to far too many of these incidents, to take action," Rep. Noor stated. "Sprinklers are a simple, highly-effective tool that should be fully-employed in all high-rises, new and old. Minnesotans deserve to feel secure in their homes – we can help ensure they do by being prepared and avoiding preventable tragedy."

Another one of the bill's co-authors, Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL-60), says she's proud to be part of it and that it will protect the lives and safety of people living in public housing across the state.

"These critical life safety maintenance repairs and upgrades will prevent future fire tragedies so no one else dies," Sen. Dziedzic added.

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The legislation applies to all buildings 75 feet or higher and would require fully-operational sprinklers by Aug. 1, 2032, according to a press release from DFL leaders.

In Minneapolis, 26 buildings fit that criteria and statewide the number is more than 40. The cost is an estimate, but to address the buildings in Minneapolis (accounting for the sprinkler system and plumbing) it could cost around $70 million. 

The money could come from state grants or at the federal level – state senators have already started the process to create a system for building operators to get started and see what the full costs will be.

The city of St. Paul has done this, and it took more than 20 years. This is just the start of the bill, which will be addressed in a workshop before the legislative session to try and keep the momentum going.