Life Safety Upgrade Brings Order to Courthouse

Instead of facing demolition, the Seminole County Civil Courthouse in Florida underwent a comprehensive system overhaul, incorporating trouble-free notification products designed for installation ease.

Courthouses must provide a presence that conveys stability, integrity, and suggests the vital duties of the court while maintaining an open and inviting atmosphere. These facilities can make a major contribution to the architectural fabric of the local community and serve as a public image focal point. Because of the specialized functions and requirements of courthouses, additional emphasis must be placed on security and fire and life safety.

In Sanford, Florida, the Seminole County Civil Courthouse is near major Orlando attractions. The aging four-story, two-tower courthouse, however, was in immediate need of a full fire and life safety upgrade. The building, constructed in 1974, was nearly scheduled for the wrecking ball before officials decided instead to fully retrofit the structure. The varying occupancy and highly stressful work conducted within the building demanded the best possible fire and life safety environment. Project work was done at night and on days when court was not in session because the courthouse is active most days of the week and needs to be kept fully functional at most times.

According to project manager Randy Pinkham, vice president of operations for SiteSecure Inc., a Sanford fire and security systems installer, all existing equipment was outdated or in need of replacement due to diminished performance. The whole system, which complied with circa 1972 code, did not comply with today’s requirements at all. Therefore the entire building had to be upgraded and retrofitted to meet current code. Among the significant challenges was the large air conditioning unit, which serves half of the building; the unit did not have duct smoke detectors because they were not required when it was installed. The unit needed to be shut down at times and required corresponding review by HVAC engineers.

To achieve project goals of a swift turnaround time and a complete review of the building, Pinkham focused on a fire and life safety system that featured simple installation, required a minimum of troubleshooting and would readily pass code inspection.

An advanced notification system of more than 300 SpectrAlert™ Advance speakers and speaker/strobes was installed. “We chose them because the new speaker/strobes and new appliances are easy to install, durable and as attractive as fire alarm devices can be,” said Pinkham. “The system was essentially pre-configured and just needed to be hung on the wall. The quick-mount design offered big benefits in that it is easy to install and requires less time to service.”

System upgrades often include some wiring problems and troubleshooting issues. That was not so in this project, according to Pinkham. “There were no nicked or kinked wires to deal with, so ground faults were zero. Usually, on a job like this, you get some wiring problems with wires curling up and being pinched under the device and so forth. But it really wasn’t present on this job because of the new appliances. The speaker/strobes have an isolated bracket to install it. There was no troubleshooting to speak of,” he said.

Based on his experience in working with a proprietary fire alarm system for 27 years, Pinkham also favored a nonproprietary system. He recommended a non-proprietary, full-voice integrated operating system: the Farenhyt IFP-1000. The fully addressable control panel is semi-proprietary, but the peripherals — the smoke detectors, pull stations and so forth — are completely nonproprietary.

Nearly one year after Seminole County Civil Courthouse was targeted for full renovation or demolition, SiteSecure completed the project and brought the building up to current fire and life safety codes. As one of Sanford’s most significant structures, the upgrade to 21st century technology is significant. The renovation includes entirely new HVAC and fire/life safety and security systems, all designed to minimize impact on the landmark building.

County officials are extremely happy with the outcome of the project. They were even pleased with the attractive appearance of the surface-mount devices. “We surface-mount these devices, which have a shroud or back box cover that you can put on that unsightly four-square electrical box. System Sensor is the only manufacturer I know of that has this feature, and the aesthetics are very nice,” said Pinkham.

The project’s fast, one-year turnaround time can be attributed to the dedicated efforts and adjusted work hours of SiteSecure’s team of licensed engineers. The design work was done in their CAD department, and the assistance and responsiveness of the product representatives contributed to its success. The county had beneficial use of the building in May, before the project was100 percent completed and fully approved by September 2008.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Security Today.

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