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Building codes need scrutiny, says official

The devastation Hurricane Andrew inflicted on parts of South Florida has prompted a Hillsborough County commissioner to propose a regional study of construction practices in the Tampa Bay area.

Commissioner Joe Chillura, an architect, said Thursday he will ask the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council on Monday to form a task force to study the way buildings are constructed.

Dubbed "Operation Get Ready," the study should focus on building codes, construction practices and inspection procedures, Chillura said.

Chillura said a round-table discussion he held last month with people in the construction industry revealed inconsistencies in building codes among local governments in the area.

"This has to be a regional approach," Chillura said. "Hurricanes don't honor county lines."

While Pinellas County requires buildings to withstand 120 mph winds, Hillsborough's standard stops at 100 mph winds, Chillura said.

Simple measures like hurricane clips and storm shutters "can play a major role in getting ready," Chillura said.

Some homes in South Florida were built with particle board instead of plywood, and staples instead of nails, Chillura said. "We ought to outlaw staples completely," he said.

Inspection procedures also need to be studied to ensure that building requirements already on the books are being enforced. Inspectors must be re-educated to detect potential problems, he said.

Some of these changes will increase the price of new buildings, Chillura acknowledged. "The home building industry may resist this," he said, "but I think the public will support it."

Tougher building codes will do more than just help buildings withstand hurricanes, Chillura said. They also could help lower the cost of homeowner insurance and flood insurance, he said.