Hevesi seeks funds for dorm sprinklers

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State Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) said Friday he would introduce ambitious legislation mandating that the state pay for all colleges in New York to upgrade their dormitories with sprinklers in every room.

"What I want to do is require that every single college facility, both public and private, be fully fire-safety equipped," Hevesi said.

The proposal came weeks after a fire at a Seton Hall dormitory killed three students and injured dozens more. New Jersey legislators have already proposed making automatic sprinklers a requirement in all college dormitories and Seton Hall administrators said they would upgrade their dormitories to include sprinklers.

"It really is a major problem and I understand that it is very expensive," he said. "It could take hundreds of millions of dollars."

The legislation, which Hevesi said he hoped to introduce in the Senate Monday, would direct the state Dormitory Authority to issue bonds to both public and private universities to make alterations to buildings that do not have sprinklers in every dormitory room.

The state would then pay back the debt service on those bonds over several years, according to the bill.

"Essentially the institution would not be paying for it at all," Hevesi said.

Based on testimony before the Senate by SUNY Schools Chancellor Robert King, 203 of the state's 266 residence halls have sprinkler systems, but a portion of those do not have sprinklers in every dorm room, Hevesi said.

"There has never been a fire fatality in a building with sprinklers," said Hevesi, who before becoming a senator was the Queens borough president's liaison to the Fire Department and spearheaded the borough's fire safety campaigns. "Sprinklers are a panacea."

He said even if sprinklers do not extinguish a fire, they give people valuable time to escape harm by slowing a fire down.

"There's no arguing against this," he said. "If someone could suggest to me a better expenditure of funds, let me hear it."

Hevesi said the upgrades would take several years to implement.

He said he had requested more specific information on how many dormitories would have to be upgraded and how much the renovations would cost.

"Fire deaths are entirely preventable," the senator said, "all of them."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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