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Barns hosting wedding events could be exempt from sprinkler requirements

The scores of barns-turned-wedding-venues that have popped up in Minnesota could be exempt from sprinkler system requirements, which owners say cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and do little to improve safety.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), HF1015 would only require facilities to have a system if they hold 300 or more people and were rehabbed or constructed after Aug. 1, 2008.

Under existing law, event centers with capacity of under 100 people are required to have a sprinkler system if they are classified as "intended for food and/or drink consumption" under state building code. That category typically includes night clubs, restaurants and other venues with kitchens, which aren't usually found in wedding barns.

That's led to confusion over sprinkler requirements, according to officials.

Marquart said the bill would create clarity and peace of mind for the owners of converted farms and other rural event centers, many of whom are families.

He said there are no open flames, sleeping quarters or onsite cooking or food preparation in these buildings, which are open air and have fire alarms and other safety features.

"I just think we have to make this balance between $300,000 to $500,000 and 'Is it this huge safety concern?'" he said.

The bill on Tuesday was approved, as amended, 11-0 with two abstentions by the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and referred to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

Its companion, SF524, is sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) and awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Doug Whitney, a licensed building official with the city of Ely, said many rural event centers were categorized the same as churches and museums and other non-food-and-drink facilities until about 2015.

But recently, owners of some rural venues with a sprinkler system have urged lawmakers to require that all buildings be classified in the food-and-drink category.

Wayne Butt, owner of the Historic John P. Furber Farm in Cottage Grove, which has a sprinkler system, said old barns weren't built to have a lot of people moving about inside them.

Randy Schmitz, owner of another venue with a sprinkler system, Rolling Ridge Wedding & Event Center in St. Joseph, said property owners shouldn't get to pick and choose which rules to follow.

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