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Building Code Corner

Building Code News

Towards a National Building Code
Eng. Noel daCosta

The Jamaica Institute of Engineers has a system for electing its leaders that works in reverse, so that instead of voting for a President, one votes for a President- elect, who becomes President the following year. One advantage of this approach is that the incoming President has a year to prepare for office. During my year-in-waiting, I tried to identify a project for my year as president that would contribute to the betterment of the profession. As the first Chemical Engineer president, I had long decided that because of its nature and the small number of Chemical Engineers in Jamaica, a project in my field of engineering would be difficult to identify and more difficult to implement, so I turned to my colleagues in Civil engineering, and more specifically to my partners in Jentech Consultants Limited. The advice I received from Dr. Wayne Reid was that I would be doing a great service to the nation and to my fellow engineers, if I could manage to do something towards getting a proper building code for Jamaica.

I took up this challenge and started my research which unearthed the following:

  1. Jamaica does not have a mandatory up-to-date Building code.
  2. The current legal Building code that is enforceable, was published in the first decade of the last century.
  3. An updated code was published in 1983 as a policy document and is therefore not enforceable.
  4. The Caribbean Uniform Building Code (CUBiC) was produced by a group of English speaking Caribbean engineers in 1985 and is used by some practitioners in Jamaica, but this is not a legal document.
  5. A national review of the code in Jamaica was started in 1991 by the Jamaica Bureau of Standards and was based on the six volumes of CUBiC. This work was done over some eight years and was reported to be 70% completed, but the time frame over which this was achieved rendered the efforts close to being out of date even before completion. The effort was abandoned in 2000 for lack of funding.

The bottom line is that we are using a code that is past its ‘use by’ date and there is no immediate plan to remedy the situation.

I had thought that a new Building code would require a further updating of the CUBiC document, so I decided to do a ‘quick and dirty’ survey to see how many engineers actually used CUBiC. The ‘research’ consisted of asking my assistant, Diane Willis, to do a poll of the engineers in the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory, to see who was using CUBiC.

Based on her results we learned that:

  • 46 % of engineers use CUBiC
  • 30 % of engineers do not know that CUBiC exists.
  • 43 % of engineers use foreign codes. BS, ACI, SEAOC, ASTM, ASHRAE, IBC and other codes
  • 24 % of engineers know of CUBiC but don’t use it.

I was recently bemused to see my ‘research’ data appearing in some official documents.

As a result of these indicative findings, I invited Al Adams to lunch, to get his view on the way forward. Al was one of the authors of CUBiC, and at the time was involved with the APRM Consensus Project. APRM (Association for Prevention of Major Risks in Martinique) consensus project is a regional cooperation effort to generate and disseminate the information needed to help draw up technical building standards based on the natural hazards to which Caribbean countries are subjected and to change inappropriate building techniques in the Caribbean. The APRM collects information about natural hazards and circulates it to its members, interested outside persons and the relevant authorities. The project has similar objectives to CUBiC, but with a broader scope to include French, Dutch and Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean. Al suggested that one of the difficulties that bedevilled code writing in regions like the Caribbean, was the effort and cost required to update the code and keep it current with the many changes in building technology and weather patterns.

One method to counteract this deficiency, which has found favour in many quarters, is to adopt an established international code as a base code.

The American International Building Code (IBC) has been favoured as the base code by many of the “initiated” in the region. The approach would be to draft only an Application Document to present special values, parameters or conditions peculiar to the region.

The French speaking islands have long used an International Base Code, i.e. the French Code, (to be superseded eventually by the Euro Code). Their equivalent of the proposed Application Document is called the Nationally Determined Parameters.

I invited who I thought would be the main stakeholders in a new building code, to a meeting to discuss the preferred way forward. At the end of the very lively discussions it was decided that the best way to proceed was to abandon the stale-dated work on CUBiC and to write a new application document based on the IBC.

The IBC was chosen because:

a) It covered design requirements for all the natural disasters that affect Jamaica

b) It enabled Jamaica to tap into a building code system that was resourced to keep the code updated.

c) The scope of the IBC was far more comprehensive, and when the partially completed Jamaican code was compared with it, the effective level of completion was significantly less than the reported 70%.

d) It satisfied the Jamaican Government conditions for a new building code e.g.:

- It should cover the widest possible range of building types including the high–rise residential and commercial structures.

- The code should ensure as far as possible that no single disaster could destroy the entire building infrastructure in Jamaica, thereby making medical care and shelter for survivors difficult.

- All Buildings should be accessible by the disabled

Coming out of the meeting we identified a Steering Committee who would guide the development of the Jamaican National Building Code (JNBC) and I was chosen to chair the committee.

The steering committee agreed to meet monthly and in our first meeting we scoped out the work to be done. The agreed scope was a review of five (5) codes and writing the appropriate Jamaican Application documents.

The next step was to identify someone to lead the project on a full time basis, and after going out to tender, we decided on Roosevelt DaCosta (no relation) a consultant who had prior experience with the building code as a senior employee of the Jamaican Bureau of Standards.

Having identified the way forward and the human resource to do so, the main hurdle now was to obtain the required funding. Hermon Edmondson of the Bureau of Standards and I, determined that the cash outlay for executing this project would be somewhere around J$16 million, and this would cover the cost of the consultant, secretarial support and purchasing the required base codes and computers.

My approach in fund raising was to target those institutions that were connected to the building industry, especially those where I personally knew someone in senior management. This worked well, and I received favourable responses from the Victoria Mutual Building Society, the Jamaica National Building Society, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank and the National Housing Trust. These organisations quickly appreciated the value of what we were doing and put up their cash, so with approximately J$6.0 million in funding identified, I took a leap of faith and engaged Roosevelt DaCosta and a secretary to commence the work.

Around this time, the University of Technology organized a conference on the Built Environment, and invited me to make a presentation on the JNBC. At the conference I met Rick Okawa of the International Codes Council (ICC), who are the authors of the IBC. Rick was very supportive of the work we planned to do and was later instrumental in negotiating a memorandum of understanding for us to use the IBC as our base code. He also donated several copies of the IBC codebooks to assist us with our work. At the conference I also met with representatives of the Caribbean Development Bank, who were very interested in what we were doing and encouraged me to write to them for financial assistance. I did write several funding proposals to them, but after the Caricom Regional Organisation of Standards and Quality (CROSQ) became involved they were prepared to fund only a Caribbean code project and not a Jamaican project.

In the meantime, the Steering committee was meeting regularly, and we had formed several sub committees and working groups to take the work forward. The committees were made up of building industry professionals who were contributing their knowledge, skill and time to this project, with only the vague promise of an unspecified honorarium at the end of the project.

Clearly the honorarium was not the motivation, and I wish to thank and salute the more than 100 professionals who contributed and still continue to contribute to this effort.

As word of the project started to spread, we received offers of assistance from Jamaican engineers living and working overseas, some of these ‘Diaspora’ engineers became members of our working committees, interacting by email.

In order to keep the work going, I wrote many funding proposals to various organisations, sometimes with laughable results:

- I had high hopes of getting substantial financial support from the Jamaica Association of General Insurance Companies, as I thought that enlightened self interest would have encouraged them above all others, to participate in this project. In that quest, I attended one of their monthly meetings and made what I thought was a convincing presentation of our project. After many more meetings and discussions, I finally received an email advising that while they acknowledged the value of the work being undertaken, they could not support it financially.

- Bank of Nova Scotia responded indicating that the government should fund such projects and wondered why professional organisations whose membership are among the better paid in the society do not fund projects for which they are the direct beneficiaries. This despite the fact that my proposal indicated that the work was of national benefit, and the value of the expert man-hours that the engineers were donating at no cost to the project, exceeded J$70.0 million at that time.

- NCB protested an inability to pay and respectfully declined.

- UNEP did not respond to the proposal, after early discussions.

- Office of National Reconstruction who called for an appropriate building code after the passage of hurricane Ivan, did not respond to our proposals for funding.

One day I got a call from the Gleaner Company, advising that their Chairman, Oliver Clarke, was inviting me to lunch. As it turned out, the Chairman sometimes has lunches where he invites persons from different spheres of activities to update each other and himself on what is happening in their area. This I suppose provides leads and insights for later news stories. At the time I was the president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, so I had assumed I was invited in that capacity. When I was called upon to ‘report’ I was asked to update the meeting on happenings in the engineering world, so I spoke about the JNBC and the frustrations I was experiencing in getting funding for the work.

A few weeks later I received a call from the Jamaica National Building Society Foundation, who invited me to submit a funding proposal for the Building Code Project. Not only did they respond with a very generous donation to the project, but they also opened a special account and invited the public to contribute to the project (not many responses). In addition they offered the expertise of one of their staff to assist in preparing funding requests.

I am not sure why the Foundation was so generous especially after their sister company, the Jamaica National Building Society had already made an early contribution to the project, but I do know that Oliver Clarke is also the Chairman of the Jamaica National group.

Soon after the code review process commenced, it became clear that the cross referencing among codes was so extensive that the scope of the project would have to be revised, and the entire series of thirteen International Codes would have to be reviewed and adopted.

Although this would significantly increase the duration and cost of the project, we forged ahead. The revised project objectives considered the fact that producing code documents could not by itself guarantee their usage or effective implementation. Consideration would have to be given to the preparation of legislation, training and compliance methodologies. In particular it would require that we draft the following legal documents:

- Policy Framework Document for an Act and Regulations

- A new National Building Act for Jamaica

- Regulations under the Act and

that we add an education and training component to our work.

In May 2004, CROSQ became aware of the work we were doing in Jamaica and proposed its expansion into a regional project, subject to preparation and submission of an appropriate project document to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and its subsequent approval.

The Jamaica Bureau of Standards (BSJ), which up to this point had made no financial contributions to the project, advised the steering committee that they supported the regional approach, and would contribute financially only on the basis of a regional project.

The steering committee was not enthusiastic about this development, because they felt that the involvement of the other countries, which had a different approach to code writing, would slow the momentum of the Jamaican effort, also, talk of regional financing would dampen the support of the prospective local sponsors.

In October 2004, I attended a conference organized by the Ministry of Local Government, involving the Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, the then Minister of Local Government, senior Ministry staff, Mayors, senior Parish Council officials, Building Officers and other technical personnel from across the island, who were involved in the building process. The Minister requested the Parish Councils to allocate some of their funds to help bridge the financing gap in the building code project, which at that time was J$18 million. The majority of this money was to be used for the training of the building inspectors, and regulators, and to set up a code compliance system.

Nothing has been received to date.

In November 2004 the steering committee decided to outsource the legal work of preparing a Building Act and appropriate Regulations to a team of legal experts, at an estimated cost of J$ 2.4 million. We did this because there was no evidence that anyone else was looking about the legal underpinnings for the new JNBC and we did not wish to end up with yet another unenforceable ‘policy document’.

Our financial resources were almost depleted by this time, and the work began to slow down because critical information as are contained in hazard maps was not available, since Jamaica did not have the requisite hazard maps.

With the occurrence of heavy flood rains in 2005, there was a call from the public for a proper building code. To my great surprise and annoyance, I received a letter from the BSJ demanding to know why the code was not completed within the initial internal timeframe we had set ourselves, and demanding that the code be completed by a specific date. In response I reminded them how the project came into being, how it was funded to date, why the scope had changed and invited them to contribute financially to the completion of the work.

After attending a CROSQ meeting in the Eastern Caribbean, the Executive Director of the BSJ became convinced that the regional approach could not work in the short term, and finally agreed to contribute to the local project.

We used the first tranche of funds from the BSJ to commission the preparation of the requisite Hazard maps. As a result Jamaica now has, for the first time, Seismic, Wind speed, Rainfall, Flood plane and Land slippage hazards mapped.

The steering committee was always concerned that the inability of the stakeholders to implement the codes would undervalue the efforts put into their development. Because of this, when we expanded our scope of work, we set up a subcommittee to deal with Education and Training. So far the committee has facilitated an arrangement between the University of Technology (UTech) and the ICC, whereby UTech can deliver certified and non-certified ICC courses as of June 2006.

The committee in collaboration with the ICC organized a training course in Miami for code trainers. Eighteen (18) participants drawn from U Tech, JIE and the Local Authorities attended, and these trainers were equipped to deliver certified and non-certified ICC training courses locally. The JIE and UTech code trainers have conducted four seminars to date, and others are planned for the future.

Roosevelt DaCosta prepared documentation on a proposed new Compliance System for Jamaica as well as a multi-phase training plan for the Local Authorities. These were circulated to ALGA, Local Government Authorities and officers in the Ministry of Local Government and Environment.

Early in the code development process I had invited the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC), to send a representative to join our steering committee, with a view to shortening the time required to draft the proposed Building Act. They declined our invitation and advised that how the process works is that the appropriate Ministry has to make a submission to the Cabinet, who then issues drafting instructions to the CPC, who then drafts the law within the parameters provided.

We were particularly concerned that under the current system, the queue for work coming out of the office of the CPC was ten (10) years long, and unless special provisions were made, the new Building Act would not see the light of day until 2016. We therefore thought to facilitate the process by engaging legal persons with drafting experience to do the majority of the drafting work in parallel with the code writing process. We now understand that the CPC is very reluctant to use the work of others, but we are hoping that the drafting work we did would not have been wasted.

In late 2006 we met with the Minister of Local government and senior officials of his ministry to discuss the fast tracking of the Building Act. The minister was very appreciative of the work we had done to date, and admitted that as the custodian of the Building Act we had accomplished a lot of the work that his ministry should have been doing. He promised to put the human and material resources behind the completion of this project.

Regrettably at this writing, the submission to Cabinet to start the process of drafting the Building Act has not yet been made.

Almost four years after we started, we are now nearing the end of what was initially conceived to be an eighteen-month project. The code writing aspect of the project is near completion as the BSJ has already sent out nine of the eleven application documents for public comment. During the time that we have been working on the code, the ICC has updated the 2003 edition that we used as our base code, by issuing their 2006 edition. We still have some further updating to do, but that should be quite easy, and the wisdom of adopting this approach is now apparent.

Now that we are near the end, the JNBC like Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daughter has acquired a growing list of new fathers, but who is counting?

I cannot thank enough, the dedicated cadre of professionals who spent uncounted man-hours in attending hundreds of meetings over the past four years.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to the Chairmen of the various committees, through which the majority of the technical work was accomplished.

I wish to acknowledge the tenacity and hard work of Roosevelt DaCosta who took emotional ownership of the JNBC and went beyond the normal role of a consultant, putting in unpaid hours on this project.

I want to thank the private and public sector entities that expressed their confidence in this project and in me, by providing start up funding because I asked.

Since starting this project, I was elected President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and in that capacity I was asked to sit on the board of the BSJ. The BSJ is now fully behind the JNBC and I wish to acknowledge the strong support of my fellow board members, and thank them for their confidence.

I finally wish to thank and acknowledge the various Councils of the JIE that have each allowed me to continue leading this project.

The work is not done yet, but we can see where we are going.

Noel daCosta

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