Current system is called a ‘crazy quilt of code regimes’s by Brookings think tank
by Susan M. Cover, staff writer
AUGUSTA — Groups that have traditionally blocked passage of a statewide building code are working together to make it happen this time around.
Supporters say that’s good news for the state’s economy and consumers.
“I have heard one of the best things we can do to improve the business climate in Maine is a building code,” said Rep. Nancy Smith, D-Monmouth.
For years, the state has been trying to implement a consistent, statewide building code. As it it now, the state has a model building code that cities and towns can adopt, but they don’t have to.
A uniform code will eliminate the guesswork for contractors who work in more than one town, set consistent standards for historic preservation, and put in place uniform safety and energy codes, said Smith, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s business committee.
It’s one of the measures recommended by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank that spent a year studying Maine. In the report, Brookings described the current code system as a “crazy quilt of code regimes.”>/p>
“Without a uniform code, and no predictability in code enforcement, costs are added to projects as developers need to customize each project to each specific locality,” the report states.
Lack of a statewide code has also been cited as an obstacle to contractor licensing, a concept many have supported over the years. The argument is that it doesn’t make sense to license contractors until there’s a uniform code by which their work can be judged.
That will change if a uniform code is adopted, said Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland.
“It sets a foundation that contractor licensing can be built on in the future,” she said.
The Maine Municipal Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, the Service Center Coalition, and others have been working on an amendment to a new building code bill that will be considered on Tuesday.
Kathleen Newman, president of the Maine Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, said her group has supported the concept, but not the particulars, of past efforts. But the industry wants a uniform code.
“It’s just a hassle factor,” she said. “One town is using (a code from) 1985 and in the next town over, it’s something else.”>/p>
On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Business, Research and Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing on Legislative Document 2257, “An Act to Establish a Uniform Building and Energy Code.”>/p>
As written, the bill proposes to put in a statewide building and energy code that would replace all existing codes. It establishes a board and support staff within the Office of the State Fire Marshal that would update the code and train inspectors.
The bill requires local building inspectors to enforce the code, although in towns with fewer than 2,000 people, enforcement is optional.
During Tuesday’s public hearing, the Maine Municipal Association and others will ask the committee to make several changes to the bill, including making enforcement optional for all cities and towns, said Jeff Austin of MMA.
Austin said that’s because the reason forx a uniform, statewide code is to help relieve regulatory burdens, not because there has been “a rash of buildings collapsing in Maine.”>/p>
He and Newman said they will also question whether the program belongs in the fire marshal’s office. They’d like to see it in the state Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.
But for the most part, Austin said the bill is a good idea. And Bromley, who serves as Senate chairwoman of the business committee, said she’s optimistic that this will be the year it passes.
“People on the ground in construction understand how important it is,” Bromley said.