Smith, Klobuchar join calls for high-rise sprinkler funding

Minnesota’s U.S. Senators joined an effort from some state legislators to require fire sprinklers in public housing high-rise buildings.

Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar are working to get the federal government involved, too, which Smith says is long overdue.

The push for high-rise sprinklers started in 2019 when a Cedar-Riverside high-rise fire took five lives. The State Fire Marshal ruled a lack of sprinklers contributed to their deaths.

"These buildings are full of elders and people living with disabilities and it was just horrible," said Smith.

Wednesday, Smith and Klobuchar reintroduced their public housing fire safety act, setting aside $25 million in competitive grants for public housing authorities to install sprinklers in multi-family buildings.

"I think it is getting more and more attention. People realize how wrong it is these old buildings don’t have sprinkler systems like the newer buildings do, and it’s an issue all over the country," Smith said.

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is already taking action. Its new budget commits $8 million to add sprinklers to nine buildings. They include the Cedar high-rise in the heart of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the Horn Towers at 31st and Blaisdell.

The state Legislature is taking its own action as the House passed Rep. Mohamud Noor’s bill requiring sprinklers in existing buildings on floors above the reach of fire trucks.

That was one of the many complicating factors in the fire at the Cedar high-rise, which Smith says is a tragedy that brought national attention to the need to make investments in high rises.

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority is seeking another $1 million from the City of Minneapolis and $2 million from the state so it can add sprinklers to two more buildings.

Retrofitting is not cheap, however, running about $1 million on average per building.