Raceway gets time to fix fire code problems

The Shawano Leader/June 8, 2006
By Tim Ryan

USA International Raceway on Wednesday was given until next month to resolve building code violations at the racetrack or have its conditional use permit revoked.

But in the meantime, the raceway still has the problem of several buildings at the track that have been ordered closed until they can be inspected by the state – something unlikely to happen in time for the AMA SuperMoto race this weekend that the racetrack is hosting.

The buildings were inspected on May 9 by Shawano Area Fire Department captain and fire inspector Jeff Zimmerman and state commercial building inspector John Nygard.

Zimmerman told the Shawano County Planning, Development and Zoning Committee Wednesday that his biggest concern is a potential fire hazard.

"Fire codes are a big issue," Zimmerman said. "I’m not going to take the liability, and I know my fire chief is not going to take the liability if something happens."

Zimmerman said one of the buildings in question has only one entrance and exit, posing the possibility that people could be trapped if a fire broke out.

"As far as I’m concerned, the buildings aren’t going to be used," he said. "They are posted as uninhabitable. So if they are used, it’s not my liability."

USA International Raceway general manager Scott Paape said there were in fact two exits out of the tower building that Zimmerman was referring to, but because of a change in safety laws that second exit no longer qualifies.

But planning committee chairman Bob Krause said that was beside the point.

"That’s fine, Scott, but it doesn’t really matter," Krause said. "What matters is what the fire inspector says. And if he finds they’re uninhabitable, they’re uninhabitable. Whether you disagree with that or not, doesn’t really make a lot of difference."

Zimmerman sent a letter to racetrack officials on May 12 notifying them that several buildings were not in compliance with state building codes and fire codes. Those buildings were described as main registration, go kart repair, scale house/enclosed grand stand, and scoring tower/viewing area.

The buildings, according to Zimmerman’s letter, "shall not be occupied until proper code compliance is met."

Nygard, who is with the Department of Commerce’s Safety and Buildings Division, filled out an inspection progress report on May 9 stating that the racetrack needed to submit building plans and proper structural calculations to the department for approval.

The Town of Wescott, where the racetrack is located, requested that the Shawano County Planning, Development and Zoning Committee once again review the track’s conditional use permit in light of the code violations.

Among the conditions of the permit is that the racetrack comply with building codes.

"Obviously condition number two is not being met," Krause said. "So we’re in the position where we need to decide if we need to pull this conditional permit, and not allow the racetrack to operate."

Krause said he had mixed feelings about granting the track time to fix the problems.

"Personally, I think there should be – and I hate to say this – that we should give them time to comply, because they’ve had a lot of time to comply and they’ve been in violation both because of them not following proper procedure, but also because of the change in zoning codes through the process of building," Krause said.

Paape said that a state-certified architect has signed off on the building plans, but those plans still need to be submitted to the state.

"This is a process that in the next two days we’re going to be running around, getting it done," Paape said.

However, Paape also said he is not scheduled to meet with state inspectors until June 16. That raises the possibility that state approval might not happen until later in the month.

The racetrack will face fines of $500 per day for each violation if the buildings are used in the meantime.

The planning committee ultimately voted unanimously that the racetrack must be in compliance by July 1, prior to it being on the committee’s agenda at its July 5 meeting.

Committee member and District 13 supervisor Kathy Luebke said the penalty should be a loss of the conditional use permit.

"If he comes back and says, ‘hey, I couldn’t get anybody,’ and you didn’t try till the very end of June, he’s out the door," Luebke said. "Enough’s enough."

Paape told the committee he welcomed the inclusion of the consequences in the committee’s resolution, saying they would light a fire under the right people who are responsible for seeing the work gets done.

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