Graduation tickets to be limited due to fire code

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By Kristin Beck

Beginning this year, the graduation ceremony at Carroll County High School is a ticketed event.

The change is due to a determination by the state fire marshall’s office that the occupancy level for the CCHS gymnasium, where graduation is held, is 1,800. This is the number of people who can safely exit the building in case of an emergency.

That means that this year’s senior class of 129 has been allocated 12 tickets per graduate.

“We need to make sure we will be within that,” Principal Tom Stephens said. “We don’t want to violate that capacity number.”
The number of graduation tickets allocated to each student was determined by subtracting the number of graduates, Board of Education members and staff members from the occupancy level and then dividing the remainder by the number of graduates, Stephens said.

Graduation will be held Sunday, May 19 at 2:30 p.m.

Stephens said he told the seniors at this month’s Senior Seminar about the changes and will be sending out a more detailed letter to parents. Because it is such a big change, Stephens said some of the students were kind of vocal at first. But as the students started thinking about the reason behind the change and began counting who they would invite, many realized 12 is a good-sized number.

“There were very few who thought they needed 12 or more,” he said.


Tickets: Who needs one and
how to get more

Tickets will be handed out closer to graduation. Announcements from Balfour will arrive soon, which state that graduation is a ticketed event.

No one can remember there ever being a limit on the number of people who can attend graduation, Stephens said.

One of the biggest concerns for the school was former graduates and members of the community who do not have a connection to a particular senior that normally like to attend graduation.
“We’d love everyone to be able to come celebrate with us, but we’ve got to follow what the safety regulations are,” Stephens said.

The fire marshall based the occupancy level on the number of people that can be safely evacuated from the building in case of an emergency, he said. As a result, all children, including babies, must have a ticket.

As it gets closer to the distribution date, the high school will do a One Call to parents asking them to talk to their seniors about how many tickets they really need. The school will conduct a “swap session,” in which those students needing more tickets can talk to those who have more than they need. Stephens said he talked to other schools that have used this method with success, so Carroll County is going to try this rather than the school distributing them.

Stephens said the school is working on providing an overflow location at Cartmell Elementary and providing a live broadcast of graduation from there. They are still working out the details, he said.

Stephens said school administrators discussed the possibility of having the graduation ceremony on the football field. However, if they did that, they would still need to set up in two locations in case of a pop-up storm. He said it would not be fair to family members traveling from out of town to postpone graduation in that situation.
“Instead of having that uncertainty of the football field, it made more sense to have a good, solid plan in place and move forward with that,” Stephens said.


How the number was determined

Carrollton Fire Chief Greg Beck said Athletic Director Paul Stone requested he come to the high school and perform a capacity check on the gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 20. This was the night of the boys Carroll County vs. Owen County and Gallatin County vs. Eminence 31st District Tournament games.

“It was believed at one time that it could hold 3,300 people, but he was not for sure what that number should be,” Beck said.

Beck came and measured the capacity of the building, according to the National Fire Protection Association Code 1. After adding up the total inches of seating in the bleachers, he divided by 18 inches, which is considered one person. Then, he took the remaining space, including the floor and standing areas, and calculated that for every seven feet, he could add another person, standing room only. However, that number is smaller when adding chairs.

Beck determined the gymnasium capacity to be 3,146 people.

However, the exit capacity is smaller, 2,177 people. Beck counted seven exits during his evaluation, surpassing the minimum of four for the type of space. However, the exits are not as wide as they could be. “There’s not enough exit width,” he said, “not necessarily the number of exits, but the doors are not wide enough to handle the space.”

Ways to remedy the situation include installing more doors at one location or by physically widening the current doors, Beck said.

While doing research and crunching numbers on maximum occupancy, Beck said he wanted a frame of reference to compare his numbers. He called State Fire Marshall’s Office Assistant Director Richard Peddicord, who pulled up an occupancy level of less than 600 people for the gym. Both Beck and Peddicord were confused, unsure if the last occupancy level listed dated back to the days of Carrollton High School or if the number was keyed into the computer incorrectly.

Since the number needed to be updated, Peddicord told Beck he would send up a deputy state fire marshall; however Beck explained his time crunch and received permission to calculate a number for the school administration.

“Because that’s a school, that falls under state jurisdiction, so the state fire marshall has the responsibility of inspecting that piece of property,” Beck said. “The local fire department only has that authority if given to them through the state.”

Beck was granted authority to make the inspection and post a maximum occupancy number, which would stand until the state inspection.

The deputy state fire marshall came to the high school about a week later and posted the occupancy level at 1,800 people.

Beck said he counted seven exits in the gymnasium, but the state only gave credit for six.

“The difference came down to a difference in opinion whether one set of doors was truly an exit or not,” Beck said. “I took a best judgment call that the set of doors leading into the concession stand area was an exit because it was able to allow a certain number of people to exit out of that space and exit out another door on the east side of that building. So I gave them partial credit for that set of doors. When the state came in, they made the determination that was not truly an exit. For what reason, I am not quite sure.”

“… In the long run, that cost the occupancy level about 350 people.”

The remaining difference of about 27 people had to do with rounding error; all Kentucky certified inspectors are given some leeway in rounding, Beck said.

Attempts to contact Peddicord for further comment were unsuccessful.

Stephens said he hates having to limit the number of those who can attend graduation, but he also has to follow the safety regulations. “I want to do what’s right for the safety of everyone as well,” he said.