WED AM News: Impacts of updating commercial building code debated in legislative committee; Evers kicks off 2023 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days

— Updating Wisconsin’s commercial building code to reflect more current international standards and add efficiency requirements could increase or decrease building costs, depending upon whom you ask.

The code update would run the gamut on commercial building areas of design, such as wall insulation thickness, fire suppression systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and how much space there is around toilets. The Department of Safety and Professional Services yesterday in the Housing and Real Estate Committee argued code additions improve building safety, worker safety and material standards.

Wisconsin would take up the International Code Council’s 2021 commercial building codes under the new rule. Wisconsin is currently on the ICC’s 2015 codes.

Keller Vice President of Architecture and Engineering Steve Klessig, who spoke alongside ABC Supply spokesperson John Schulze, said the updates would increase costs for metal-frame buildings, a popular manufacturing facility design, by about 15 percent.

“One of the reasons that it’s so popular in industrial parks is that, for Wisconsin businesses, it’s an affordable building type,” he said. “Under the new ’21 codes, it’s going to be very difficult for a building like that to meet the current codes.”

The update would also require special inspectors for larger projects that most local building inspectors are not as well-equipped to handle.

Klessig questioned, “To what extent do we need an additional bureaucracy to regulate our buildings when we have all of these tiers already existing in our state?”

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Fellow Mick Schwedler argued the changes would actually create an $800,900 energy savings in the first year and $340 million over the next 30. It would also make buildings more resilient to extreme weather events, he added.

“The positive effects from an economic standpoint of this code update would include the creation of jobs in construction and related industry, as well as lower utility bills for customers, tenants and businesses,” he said.

Schwedler also pointed out builders and developers could tap into more federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act if the code updates go through. Mid-rise developments, buildings between four and 12 stories, would see a $1 per square foot reduction in construction costs, he said.

Republican lawmakers also raised concerns about the “nanny state” government trying to control every aspect of building construction to make it perfect.

Co-chair Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, said in his roughly 10 years in office he’s never had a constituent call asking to update building codes, but he’s gotten hundreds of calls seeking clarification on rules or complaining about building delays.

“Then you’re starting to increase turning radius by 10 percent in the bathrooms, you start raising the cost of a bathroom at a commercial building, and all of that goes up,” he said. “So all of those things pile up.”

Brooks, who is a realtor, added increasing costs by just 1 or 2 percent could destroy a commercial building’s viability.

Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, said she knows Wisconsin is especially concerned right now with keeping building costs down, “But when we’re talking about building codes, regulation also equals safety.”

Gov. Tony Evers last month signed into law a workforce housing package that sets aside more than half a billion dollars for affordable housing development loans to help reduce the state’s housing shortage.

Emerson brought up the 1981 Hyatt Regency collapse that killed 114 people and 216 others due to engineering and maintenance issues.

“What is the cost of all those lives that were lost? What was the lawsuit, but not only that, what’s the human cost? And I’m sure none of the contractors would want to have something like that on their resume,” she said.

The energy efficiency side also impacts safety and living costs as the globe experiences more extreme weather events and the hottest days on record, she added.

Watch the hearing:

— Evers touted the strength and diversity of the state’s agricultural industries to kick off 2023 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Baraboo. 

Speaking yesterday during the opening ceremony for the three-day event, the guv noted farming in Wisconsin has grown to a $105 billion industry, as the state leads the nation in production of cranberries, ginseng, cheese and other products. 

“Organizations from across the Midwest and Canada are here to celebrate the past, present and future of agriculture,” he said. 

The gathering is being held at the Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club, featuring nearly 500 exhibitors representing ag businesses, utilities, trade groups, government agencies, environmental advocates, universities and others. 

Meanwhile, DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski touted state efforts to expand ag education in the state. He urged attendees to “appreciate the past, observe the present, and please also take some time to support another part of our future” by visiting the Youth Agriculture Adventure, which includes a number of activities to engage kids. 

“They are the future of our industry, of our state, and we need to make sure we’re investing in them,” he said. 

Watch the opening ceremony here: 

See more on the event: 

— More of Wisconsin is now experiencing extreme drought conditions as soybean growth continues to lag last year’s rate. 

The latest USDA report shows soil moisture levels continue to improve, as rain in some parts of the state helped alleviate the impacts of ongoing dry conditions. But report authors wrote “some areas are still drought stressed and could benefit from further moisture.” 

The report, which covers the past week, shows 38 percent of the state’s soybean crop had bloomed as of Sunday. That’s two days behind last year’s rate and four days behind the five-year average. 

But the state’s oat crop was 92 percent headed — a sign of the plant’s maturity — which is two days ahead of last year and two days ahead of the average rate, the report shows. Still, oat condition was rated 42 percent “good to excellent,” for a decline of 4 percent from the previous week. 

Meanwhile, 10.3 percent of the state is now in a state of extreme drought, the second-most severe category as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor. That area is focused around south central Wisconsin, covering all of Dane, Sauk, Richland and Iowa counties and parts of the surrounding counties. 

The National Integrated Drought Information System site shows 33.3 percent of the state is experiencing severe drought and 46.7 percent is in a moderate drought. 

A total of 5.4 million state residents are living in areas affected by drought, though that total has declined by 2.3 percent since last week. 

See the NIDIS site: 

See the USDA crop report here: 

See more in a recent story: 

— Mink pelt production in Wisconsin was down 11 percent last year, roughly in line with the national trend.

That’s according to the latest USDA figures released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, which show Wisconsin produced 571,750 pelts last year. That made up 43 percent of the entire U.S. pelt production total. 

That national total was 1.33 million pelts last year, marking a 15 percent decline from 2021. The total value of U.S. pelts from 2022 was $39.2 million, which was 17 percent lower than 2021’s total of $47 million. 

Meanwhile, the NASS report also shows 117,760 female mink were bred in the state last year to produce “kits,” the name for mink young. That was 22 percent lower than the prior year, but still made up 48 percent of the national total, which was 245,160. 

Mink pelt production in Wisconsin has largely been declining since 2015, when the state alone produced more than 1.2 million pelts, the report shows. 

See the report: 

— The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation has hired fundraiser John Hromyak to lead the organization’s foundation starting Monday. 

The WFBF Foundation, first established in 1988, provides funding for agricultural education and leadership programs in the state. In his new role overseeing the foundation, Hromyak says he’s looking forward to working with donors and other partners in Wisconsin. 

“It’s an honor to support programs that benefit farmers and Wisconsin’s agricultural industry,” he said in a statement.

Hromyak previously led the Wisconsin FFA Foundation and the Agrace Hospice Care Foundation.

See the release: 

<br><b><i>Top headlines from the Health Care Report…</b></i> 

— The Wisconsin Statewide Health Information Network and the state chapter of United Way are forming a new partnership aimed at improving care coordination in Wisconsin. 

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