City officials look at buildings a little differently than the public, and even a little differently than architects and engineers. While architects and engineers will reference codes to complete our overall design goals, the entirety of a city building official’s career is based on codes. Sometimes churches, nonprofits and small businesses expect to be granted at least some degree of leniency on items such as parking, fire sprinkler system requirements, detention, and other code-mandated items. The truth is that the city officials do not see your church as a loving group of people serving and sharing. They see it as a type of building, and that’s their job. While they may admire what you are doing personally, their professional responsibility is to zero in on what you are building and confirm that your design team has applied the correct codes.
What you are required to provide and do in a space is based on something called “Occupancy Type.” Occupancy type is basically a description of what you are planning to do in the building and involves various categories. Some examples include Mercantile, Business, Industrial, and Assembly. Church worship spaces are designated as Assembly. In simple terms, Assembly spaces are places where people gather in groups. Offices are typically designated as “Business”.
So if you are moving into an old church and renovating, you are not changing the Occupancy Type of that building. If you are moving into an Office Building and turning it into a Church, you are changing the occupancy type from Business to Assembly. If you are moving into another type of Assembly space such as an Event Center, you will be closer in requirements, but there are several types of Assembly Spaces. Even though it’s the exact same actual building, the purpose of the building is what determines what the codes are going to require. Do not assume you can move in without building more parking, more restrooms, putting in detention, etc. This is something that the architect will check during their code search, or you can bring those questions up to the city prior to the land purchase if you do not have an architect helping you at that time.
City officials respect professionals who do their own code research and can explain their reasoning. Every once in a while you run into a problem and you have to pick your battles. Respect and professionalism, as well as compromise, are key on all sides.
If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org