Updated building code on the way

By Leandra Rolle

lrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE Ministry of Public Works is working to revise the country’s building code, according to Director of Works Melanie Roach, with anticipates restrictions for flood-prone areas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

She added that “serious consideration” will have to be given to creating “no build” zones in areas that experienced 20 foot storm surge.

“We’re working with several agencies as well as our local engineering and architectural partnerships. And we will be conducting a review of the Bahamas building code to go into the fourth edition because our code is 15 or 16 years now so it is time for an update,” Mrs Roach said at yesterday’s Hurricane Dorian Pledging Conference.

This, according to the works director, is just one of the many measures the government will be taking to ensure more resilient building techniques able to withstand storms like Dorian in the future.

The powerful Category Five storm ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September, obliterating homes and businesses while displacing thousands. The official death toll is 70.

Mrs Roach said while assessing damaged homes on the storm impacted islands, officials found many of the structures were not built up to par with the country’s current building code.

“We’ve initiated a post-Dorian damage that was done to buildings in both Grand Bahama and Abaco and what we’re finding is that in the majority of cases, where buildings did not stand up in hurricane, unfortunately persons took short-cuts and did not build in accordance with the current Bahamas building code,” she said.

“We’ve found that a lot of structures that withstood even the 185 mph winds of Dorian, once they were constructed in accordance with each and every aspect of the code, they actually fared very well.”

The country’s latest building code was last written in 2003. It is not clear, however, when the new code will be completed.

In the meantime, Mrs Roach suggested officials will be making preparations for when the new code is finalised. 

“We are on the cusp of putting together a programme where we have independent inspectors rather than just relying on the persons who are employed by the government of the Bahamas.

“...(So) we are going to put a focus on trying to grow our programme out as quickly as possible so that we could get the assistance that is greatly needed to ensure that anything that is built is built in accordance with the law.

“...A code is only as good as it’s enforcement and that is where we have fallen...and over the last 12 months, the buildings control division has been in discussions with local technical persons and different learning societies, (and) contractors.”

Mrs Roach also noted that with the new code, there might be newer restrictions.

“We have to look at areas that are particularly vulnerable and what we’re going to allow to be rebuilt in those areas, we do have some information on the coastal zone flooding and so that is going to impact how persons are being allowed to rebuild,” she added.

“The building code already states that the ground floor level must be I think it’s at 12 or 18 inches above the known floor level. Now, Dorian has changed what is the known flood level in many areas.”

She continued: “So, whereas before, you may have been able to build just 18 inches above ground, in some areas, where you have eight to ten-foot surges, you can’t build… unless you go up another 11 to 12 feet.

“Now with 20-foot surge, nobody is going to be able to rebuild so there is limitations based on what we’ve gathered and serious considerations might have to be given as to no build zones.

“That has indications for persons who’ve already purchased these properties or inherited those properties. Where are they going to go? How are they going to rebuild so it’s not an easy solution, but it is one that we must go through.”