Farm barns and buildings are getting a new life in Pennsylvania. Some farmers have been able to repurpose their unused or underutilized farm buildings for weddings and other social events. Farmers that are hosting these events are responding to changing consumer demands and preferences for event spaces. In addition, these event spaces create an excellent source of secondary income for farm families. As farms struggle with the roller coaster of commodity prices, secondary businesses that utilize farm ground and buildings help these farms stay financially viable. However, our commercial construction code standards were not created with this type of reuse of agriculture buildings in mind. The result is that some farmers are either shut out from converting their farms or are being required by municipalities to make costly updates to comply with the construction code. We are supportive of legislative efforts by Sen. Judy Ward and Rep. John Lawrence to provide farmers with an alternative to meeting certain aspects of the commercial construction code.
Older barns were not built with commercial construction code standards in mind. These structures are solidly built, and have withstood the test of time. But repurposing them to meet every aspect of the modern commercial construction code standard is not practical. For instance, some municipalities have required that farmers install sprinkler systems in barns. The cost of installing a sprinkler system in a barn can be more than $50,000—far too cost prohibitive for most farmers to be able to use their buildings as a part-time enterprise. In addition, some of these buildings are used as event spaces on a part time basis and are still used to store equipment and crops.
Legislative efforts started by Sen. Ward and Rep. Lawrence seeks to provide an alternative pathway to meeting the requirements of a sprinkler system, while providing for reasonable protections to the public that use these spaces. The bill requires that all electrical wiring in the building is up to date, that smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are present and that no open flame or smoking is allowed in the building. In addition, farmers would have to demonstrate that there are multiple exit points in the building. This legislation would apply to buildings that are already standing—not new construction.
This legislation is a direct result of issues that have occurred throughout the state with municipal code enforcement officers strictly interpreting the Uniform Construction Code. Several farmers who were using barns on a part time basis as event spaces were faced with cost-prohibitive upgrades, or being forced to shut down. Passing legislation that provides an alternative method for farmers to reuse their buildings, without having to meet every aspect of the construction code, will give famers certainty regardless of what municipality they live in.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is asking for your support of this important legislation.