Berkeley balcony group to push forward reforms

Committee aims to change the Californian building code to prevent future collapses

The Berkeley balcony working group is to push forward changes to the Californian building code to prevent future balcony collapses.

Irish students Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Nick Schuster and Eimear Walsh, all aged 21, and Ms Burke's cousin Ashley Donohoe (22), from California, died when the fourth-floor balcony they were standing on collapsed during a 21st birthday party in Berkeley in the early hours of June 16th, 2015.

Another seven Irish students – Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Seán Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters – suffered catastrophic injuries in the incident.

The Berkeley balcony working group gave an initial update on Tuesday at a meeting of the California Building Standards Commission.

The working group was set up in April following a letter from Berkeley city council urging an update of the state building code in the wake of the June 2015 tragedy.

The meeting heard that, within the last few weeks, a number of changes relating to balconies have been proposed to the 2018 international building code.

Five of theses changes, which involve requiring the detailing of moisture barrier systems on plans, as well as requiring moisture barrier systems to have positive drainage and ventilation for enclosed framing, have been approved.

Emergency passage

However, the meeting heard the working group is in discussions about getting these changes made to the Californian building code before the 2018 date, possibly through emergency passage.

"We have gone through a lot of discussion about the issues and potential ways forward to addressing changes or amendments to the building code looking at design and construction," said Commissioner Steve Winkel, a member of the group.

The commissioner said the group is aware of the “urgency and importance” of making the amendments to the state building code.

“We are in discussion about getting those . . . implemented sooner into the California building code through potential emergency passage,” said Mr Winkel.

Following the Berkeley disaster, it was discovered that the firm that built the apartment complex had a history of construction defect cases and had paid $26.5 million (about €25 million) in related settlements.

The Contractors State Licence Board, which regulates building contractors in the state, was unaware of the firm’s many settlements, because contractors in California are not required to disclose such information.