Wedding Barn Owners Say “I Don’t” to State Sprinkler Mandate

Owners of dozens of renovated barns used for weddings and other events in rural Minnesota are saying “I don’t” to a state regulation so costly some say they’d have to close their doors rather than comply. The state fire code requires the wedding barns to be outfitted with sprinkler systems that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, far beyond the means of many owners, according to the Pioneer Press.

Owners of the state’s 83 restored barns, used as wedding venues, are arguing over a mandate to install $300,000 sprinkler systems.

Many of those who have already done this say the law should be enforced equally statewide. But most barn-owners say installing sprinklers would put them out of business — for little public benefit.

An industry group maintains in reality the expensive state requirement doesn’t make the venues any safer for guests in the event of a fire–just more costly to own and operate.

[Minnesota Rural Event Venue Association] Board member Adam Wallis said barns have open interiors — so if a fire breaks out, everyone sees it.

Smoke alarms save lives by giving an early warning to flee. Only later do sprinklers deploy, in order to save the building.

They pop off when the temperature climbs to 160 degrees — and everyone would be gone before then, said Wallis.

The handful of owners who’ve complied say their rivals shouldn’t get an unfair advantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Pro-sprinkler barn owner [Wayne] Butt denied that he was motivated by limiting his competition, or that he slighted anyone because of the issue of sprinklers. His only goal, he said, is guarantee the safety of wedding visitors.

Barn owner [Randy] Schmitz said his new competitors should pay the cost of having a safe venue.

“They say they are rural and should not have to comply,” he said. “It’s a dirty game.”

But a key legislator has sided with those who view the sprinklers as another unnecessary government regulation on small business owners.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, is siding with the un-sprinklered barns. Housley is sponsoring legislation that would ease fire codes for smaller rural venues.

“They are being bullied,” said Housley. “You have one or two wedding barns going after everyone else.”

There has never been a fatal fire a Minnesota barn venue, she said, which makes the sprinkler mandate an example of government overreach. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” she said.

It’s not clear whether Housley’s bill, SF 4258, will garner enough “I do’s” to pass at this point.