116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS -- When Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz learned an insurance organization was downgrading the city's "building code effectiveness" rating, he knew that change would mean higher insurance premiums from c businesses and residents unless the city did something
More than a year and plenty of meetings later, the city's commercial building code effectiveness rating has been lowered to a 3, and the residential rating of 4 has been maintained.
Cedar Rapids is one of only eight Iowa cities with a commercial rating of 3. About 40 Iowa cities share Cedar Rapids' residential rating of 4.
Both ratings are set by the Insurance Services Organization, using a scale of 1 to 10. Property insurance companies use the ratings, along with fire codes, to set premiums. The building code effectiveness rating, or BCE, covers such areas as building materials and fire suppression and detection requirements. If cities require higher standards, the rules can reduce insurance losses.
Cedar Rapids had skipped a review and update of its city building codes as it focused on recovery from the June 2008 flood, Pomeranz said.
The Insurance Services Organization also cited the city's staffing levels and training budget when it warned the city on April 27, 2011, of an effectiveness rating downgrade.
Kevin Ciabatti, the city's new building services manager, oversaw the review and update of the building code. He was asked to see not only if the old rating could be salvaged, but how the city could improve its ratings.
Ciabatti said the code upgrades required roughly one entire day of meetings per month with the city's code boards, which include plumbing, electric and mechanical. He said the city received strong support from the various contractor and building trade representatives as they tried to understand and adapt the codes.
"We've seen a lot of communities adopt a code with no input whatsoever," Ciabatti said.
Many of the code changes reflected acceptance of improved building materials now coming into use, according to Ciabatti. Others reflected increased attention to energy efficiency, or improvements designed to reduce the spread of fire.
The city is adding a plan examiner staff position next year, Ciabatti said, which could further improve its building code effectiveness ratings.
The Insurance Services Organization reevaluates communities every five years. The standards organization began evaluating communities in hurricane-prone areas years ago, then extended the program to seismic hazard areas and other areas.
Doug Laird, a real estate specialist with Skogman Commercial, is part of a group of business people who have met with Pomeranz monthly in an effort to create a more efficient and supportive environment for development in the city. He called the code revamp "a great team effort."
Pomeranz agrees that the process helped build rather than impede relations with the construction industry and building trades. He said the city is working to improve its permitting process for construction and building services from a time, clarity and consistency perspective.
"The faster you get projects through the process, the more it adds wealth in the community," Pomeranz said.