more on milstein code issues

This continues a discussion that started with my blog entry from 17 December 2008, and then continued with entries on January 15, 16, and 21, 2009. Can Milstein Hall be changed in the future to accommodate library or lecture hall occupancies? City of Ithaca Senior Code Inspector John Shipe responded to my previous email as follows:

  • John Shipe wrote (1/22/09):

As you say, Milstein is an addition to Sibley hall separated per NYSBC ’03 Appendix K with a fire barrier per chapter 7 of the same code. And Milstein will be a Unseparated A-3/ B occupancy with the A occupancy being the most restrictive. So the A-3 sets the construction type, height and area for that occupancy and construction type, and all the other requirements for that occupancy such as detection , exiting, etc. throughout the building ( NYSBC 302.3.2 ). All of which are in compliance with the code in which it is permitted under.

As for your argument that you feel the second floor should most likely be a “B” occupancy really falls apart in your own email response:

“a large flexible space for studios that are conducive to improvisational interaction among the AAP programs. A variety of zones within the upper plate supports the college’s physical and programmatic vision for innovative and collaborative learning: AAP Forum, Flexible studio modules, Pin up/Crit, Seminar, Research, Technology bar, Study, Lounge.” [Note that this quote is not mine, but comes from Cornell’s Milstein Hall web site.]

This space is required to be flexible in order to accommodate many programs and situations, and so they permitted it as the most restrictive occupancy so that they would not have to worry about changes in occupancy every time there needs changed for that space . So we have Non Separated use A-3/B (NYSBC 302.4). If you read the entire section you will understand that the A-3 occupancy requirements apply to more than just the structural classification, but also dictates other requirements throughout the building. So even if they changed from a flex space to a library, it would be an equal change of occupancy and based on NYSEBC 812.4.2.2 the existing building would be fine in terms of Height and Area.


Even if they were to call the second floor area a B occupancy and in the future wanted to change it to an A-3 space it would still be allowed since Milstein is being constructed with a separation of uses and fire areas from Sibley hall by the code required fire barrier so the height and area of Sibley hall does not figure into this equation (NYSEBC 812.4.2.3).

So in my opinion the university is covered by the code in a couple of different ways with the construction of Milstein hall and i know that is not what you want to hear, but those are the facts as i see them.

  • I responded (1/26/09):

Thanks for your response. I’m sorry that it took so long for me to reply, but I’ve had a busy week. I agree with many of your statements, but I do have a few comments:

1. I agree that if the 2nd floor of Milstein is permitted as an A-3 occupancy, that future changes within that occupancy group should not present any problems. I do think, however, that at least some of that floor, if not all of it, would fit better under the group B designation, especially since the proposed uses are quite similar to those in Rand Hall, which you agreed in a previous email would be best classified as group B. This especially applies to some of the small spaces, such as seminar rooms, but also, I believe, to the studio classrooms.

2. I think that the Code does require all uses to be individually designated, even in a nonseparated mixed-use building (Section 302.3.1 says: “Nonseparated uses. Each portion of the building shall be individually classified as to use.”). The Code also suggests that these designations must conform to the actual intended use, and not to a generalized use, even if that generalized use is at a higher hazard level (Section 302.1 says: “…Where a structure is proposed for a purpose which is not specifically provided for in this code, such structure shall be classified in the group which the occupancy most nearly resembles…”).

3. It may be that the reason for designating each space by its actual use, and not giving the whole floor a blanket A-3 designation, is that the specific uses still trigger code compliance issues, even in a nonseparated mixed-use building which is governed in some respects by the higher hazard occupancy (Section 302.3.1 says: “…The required type of construction for the building shall be determined by applying the height and area limitations for each of the applicable occupancies to the entire building. The most restrictive type of construction, so determined, shall apply to the entire building.”) So the A-3 occupancy determines height and area limits for the whole building, but the A-3 occupancy does NOT determine all other requirements. The code section continues: “All other code requirements shall apply to each portion of the building based on the use of that space except that the most restrictive applicable provisions of Section 403 and Chapter 9 [exception for high-rise and sprinklers only] shall apply to these nonseparated uses….”. In other words, as an example, all the chapter 10 means of egress tables must still be checked for each separate occupancy, and not just for the highest hazard (A-3) occupancy.

4. I don’t think that the 2nd-floor could be easily modified to include A-3 uses in the future, if it is designated as group B now. The reason is that the code-required fire barrier you refer to is only legal under Appendix K of the old code. Any future change of occupancy to a higher hazard would not be able to claim compliance based on a fire barrier, since that code provision no longer exists (Section 812.4.2.1 says: “When a change of occupancy group is made to a higher hazard category as shown in Table 812.4.2, heights and areas of buildings and structures shall comply with the requirements of Chapter 5 of the Building Code of New York State for the new occupancy group.”). Also note that Section 812.4.2.3, which you refer to, does not apply to a future change from a group B to a group A-3 occupancy within Milstein. It simply says that separated mixed-use buildings need proper fire barriers between the separated uses. But Milstein is not being designed as a “separated mixed-use building,” and, furthermore, the fire-barrier separation between Sibley and Milstein is intended to act as a “fire wall” under Appendix K of the old code so that height and area limits that would have been triggered by Sibley’s construction type do not apply to Milstein under the old code. But with any future changes in Milstein to a higher hazard occupancy, Section 812.4.2.1 requires that current Chapter 5 height and area limits be met, so that the Appendix K fire barrier from the old code would no longer count as a fire wall under the current code, and the proposed changes would be noncompliant.

Those are my main issues. I agree that the architects seek a flexible floor plan, but I think that all the uses that are listed on their plans (and on their web page), such as “forum,” “studio modules,” seminar,” etc. are best designated as group B uses, which would permit Cornell to modify the plan in the future, as long as the modified uses continue to be group B uses.

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