Lately we have had several projects where a Restaurant/Brewery has moved into an existing building. These projects can be a very confusing and expensive experience. I have found that most building owners, potential tenants or buyers, realtors and contractors do not understand that all commercial buildings have a specific occupancy use classification assigned to it. These occupancy use classifications are regulated by State Building Codes and local zoning ordinances.

When you want to change the occupancy of an existing building, i.e.:  put a restaurant in a retail store space, a retail space in an old manufacturing building, or a church in an old warehouse, either the existing building must already comply with all current construction codes for the new use, or the building must be altered to comply with all current codes, or Chapter 34 of the Building Code can be used to mitigate having to comply with some of the current codes for new construction.

If you need to upgrade an existing building to meet all current construction codes for a new use, several issues can be very expensive. Some examples of these expenses are:

  • A factory with over 12,000sf, a church with more than 2,100sf of meeting space, a restaurant with more than (100) occupants, and any apartments (regardless of size or number), would require fire sprinklers to be installed.
  • All existing non-compliant ADA accessibility issues would need to be altered into compliance. This can mean, completely demolishing & rebuilding all existing restrooms as well as adding ramps, moving & enlarging doors and changing all door hardware.
  • Existing heating & cooling systems likely would need to be modified or completely replaced in order to meet current fresh air and ventilation requirements.

Chapter 34 is a part of the Building Code that provides a path to change the use of a building economically while maintaining public safety.  It involves an evaluation & scoring process of the existing building concerning life safety issues. If the scoring passes, the change of use can be permitted without having to alter existing non-compliant portions of the building as listed above. If it fails, then a plan can be developed to allow for the new use.

Chapter 34 evaluation & scoring is very technical and takes experience and a good understanding of the Construction Codes. If you are planning to repurpose an existing building, contact us so we can put PDMi’s experience and knowledge to work for you.

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