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Commonly Asked Questions Regarding Proposed School Buildings

Commonly Asked Questions
About Proposed School Buildings


My school is pretty small...what determines if my school is subject to regulation?

If the building is occupied by 6 or more students for 4 or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week, the building is required to comply with the School Building Law, P.A. 306 of 1937 as amended, and the 1999 school fire safety rules promulgated under the authority of P.A. 207 of 1941 as amended.

I am looking at leasing/buying an existing building and opening a school in it. What do I have to do? 

When an existing building is proposed to be used for K-12 school purposes, it must be in compliance with all code requirements for new buildings. In order to verify this, complete plans detailing all aspects of the building must be submitted to this office by a licensed architect or engineer for review and approval. These plans must bear the seal of a registered architect or engineer.

I am planning on constructing a new building for my school. What do I have to do? 

For a newly constructed facility (including modular buildings), a complete set of construction plans bearing the seal of a professional Architect or Engineer must be submitted to the Bureau of Fire Services for review and approval. This office will then issue a plan review report, and will require field inspection of the building during construction before occupancy approval can be granted.

Are there different requirements for the various types of schools, i.e., public, non-public, parochial, charter, etc., or are all schools subject to the same requirements?

If a school meets the definition listed above, they are subject to compliance with the School Fire Safety Rules, regardless of what kind of school they are.

When do I need an Architect or Engineer? 

The law requires an Architect or Engineer to be involved when the "fair market value" of the work exceeds $15,000 in value. Obviously, new construction would usually require an Architect or Engineer. An existing building that cannot be considered an existing continuous use school (see previous question) is considered new. Therefore, the fair market value of such a building would also usually exceed $15,000, and an Architect or Engineer is usually required for these as well. An Architect or Engineer is not required by law only in the case of an existing, continuous use school where renovations will be under $15,000 in fair market value. It is strongly suggested that you retain the services of a professional Architect or Engineer early in the planning process whether considering new construction, or using an existing building.

How do I find a reputable Architect or Engineer? 

First of all, state law requires these persons to be licensed. Be certain the person you hire is licensed. Unfortunately, this agency cannot recommend Architects or Engineers. Word of mouth is probably the best method. Talk to other charter school owners/operators who have used Architects or Engineers in the past. As in most professions, some are better than others, and the fees obviously differ. Organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers (MSPE) may be able to recommend someone and/or assist you.

Are there fees involved for review of plans or inspections?

Yes. The reverse side of the Bureau of Fire Services form BFS-979 "Application for Plan Review" lists the fees required by law for plan review and inspection.

What approvals for the building other than fire safety are required?

The owner of the building or the owners representative must also obtain the following approvals where applicable:

If the project involves water supplies (toilets, drinking fountains, etc.) or food handling, LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT approval is required. Contact the local health department directly for their requirements.

Schools are also subject to Barrier Free laws for handicapped access. Contact the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Plan Review Division at 517/241-8847 for requirements.

Electrical approval must be obtained from the electrical authority. For questions on electrical jurisdiction and requirements, contact the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Electrical Division at 517/241-9320.

How do I get approval to occupy the building? 

After all plans have been reviewed by the Office of Fire Safety, you will need to request inspections from this office. A minimum of two inspections are required (preliminary and final). Upon gaining an acceptable final inspection by our field inspector (as well as the other approvals listed above), occupancy approval can be granted. Please allow four weeks lead time for our inspectors to schedule an inspection date.

This all seems pretty complicated and time consuming. How long does this whole process take? 

This, again, is a hard question to answer. As far as plan review, the Bureau of Fire Services attempts to maintain a two to four week turn-around on plan submittals. Field inspection of the facility is also a two to four week time frame to get an inspector to the facility. If there are deficiencies to be corrected, the inspector will have follow-up inspections, and the process can take longer.

Are there separate requirements for fire alarm and fire suppression systems? 

Yes, "Shop drawings" for these systems must also be submitted for review by a firm "certified" by the Bureau of Fire Services to do this work. Once again, a two to four week turn around time can be expected for these reviews. These systems must be approved before occupancy approval will be given.

I don't know the first thing about construction. Can you give me some basic things to look for in a building that might help me determine if the building is up to code? 

As stated above, we strongly suggest you retain an Architect or Engineer as soon as possible to assist you in determining facility needs. However, the following are some general requirements for school construction (not all inclusive).

Construction: Section 10-1.6 of the rules (see page 6 of the state amendments) list construction requirements for school buildings. Some basic restrictions are:

All buildings are limited in area per floor based upon the type of construction (see section 10-1.6). If a floor area is exceeded, a two-hour fire rated wall can be used to divide the building. Kindergarten or first grade pupils: Not permitted to be located above or below the level of exit discharge (the level where the main exit door is) ;section 10-2.1.2.

Second grade pupils: Not permitted to be located more than one story above the level of exit discharge (section 10-2.1.2).

Basements: that do not have a door directly to grade are required to be sprinkled (section 10-3.5).

Mixed uses: When a building has mixed uses (such as a church and a school), either the building must be built to comply with the more restrictive requirements of each occupancy, or a two-hour fire rated separation must be provided between the uses 10-1.2.1.

Corridor Construction: Section 10- requires exit corridors to be a minimum of 6 feet wide. Section 10-3.6 requires exit corridor walls to be minimum one hour fire rated and extend tight to the floor or roof deck above. All room to corridor doors must be minimum 20 minute rated fire doors with closers. All glass in walls or doors of exit corridors must be minimum 1/4 inch wired glass.


If the building is 100 percent sprinkled, the corridor walls can be reduced to smoke-tight construction with solid core doors in all openings.


Stair enclosures Required exit stairs must be enclosed at all levels with minimum one hour fire rated construction and 60 minute fire rated doors. If four or more stories, the enclosure must be minimum two-hour fire rated with 90 minute fire rated doors (sections 6-2.4.4). Glass is not permitted in walls of required stairways.


Exits: A minimum of two remote exits are required from all floors (10-2.4). Rooms over 1000 sq. ft. or more than 50 occupants require two remote exit doors (10-2.5.3).


Travel distance to exits: Travel distance from the most remote point in the building to an exit is limited to 150 feet (200 feet if the building is 100 percent sprinkled). Refer to section 10-2.6.

Door width: Minimum door width throughout the building is 32 inches clear width (5-

Panic hardware: Required on doors serving an occupant load of 100 or more (10-

Emergency windows: Every STUDENT OCCUPIED ROOM larger than 250 sq. ft. is required to have at least one openable window directly to the exterior of the building. The clear opening of the window must be not less than 20 inches wide, 24 inches high, and 5.7 sq. ft. in area. The bottom of the opening must be no more than 44 inches above the floor (10-2.11.1).

Exception: if the building is 100 percent sprinkled, the building can be totally windowless.

Storage rooms: Storage rooms larger than 100 sq. ft. or opening onto an exit corridor must be enclosed in minimum one hour fire rated construction, with 45 minute fire rated doors, OR the room must be sprinkled (10-3.2.1 and policy letter 5-3). The rated walls must also extend tight to the floor or roof deck above.

Arts/crafts rooms and student shops: These rooms must be enclosed in one-hour fire rated construction with 45 minute fire rated doors AND sprinkled (10-3.2.1 and policy letter 5-3).

Boiler and furnace rooms: Must be enclosed with minimum one-hour fire rated construction and 45 minute doors or sprinkled (10-3.2.1).

Kitchens: Commercial kitchens must be protected by a hood fire suppression system (7-2.3 and NFPA 96).

Interior finishes (walls and ceilings only): Exits and corridors require Class "A". All others minimum Class "C" (10-3.3.1).

Fire alarm system: Required in all buildings with more than one classroom (10-3.4.1 & 7-6). Pull stations are required at all exterior doors.

Emergency lighting: Required for all interior stairs, corridors, all normally occupied areas (except administrative), mechanical and storage areas, etc. (10-2.9).

Exit signs: At all required exits, in exit corridors, and where necessary (10-2.10).