Put the assembly space on the bottom

We recently did some work looking at a laboratory and classroom function building being proposed in our neck of the woods. The building is not large. It will house a classroom space that can be used for assembly purposes, and some laboratory space. The owner’s initial preference was to place the labs on the first floor and the assembly on the second, top floor.
There were reasons to do this, and our reasons not to do this do not detract from them. However, assembly on floors other than the level of exit discharge come with a price. The price has both tangible and intangible aspects.
From a code point of view, getting people out of a building used for assembly purposes is a big deal. These people may be drunk. They may be watching a movie. They may be disoriented for any number of reasons. Thus, if these people are on a second or even third floor, extra care needs to be taken to get them safely out of a building. For this reason, the NFPA 101 has a whole slew of requirements for keeping assembly occupants safe as they navigate their way to the level of exit discharge.
We see this issue a lot with old Grange halls and schools in eastern Maine. These buildings have their assembly spaces on the second floor. There was probably a structural and utilitarian reason for this. But now, with life safety codes showing a high degree of sophistication, these second floor assembly areas come with obligations.
To summarize: the decision to put assembly functions on a second floor should come with some consideration. Is it really the right thing to do? If so, accept the financial consequences, which may end up being reasonable given the desire for second floor assembly. Otherwise, keep most of your rabble-rousing occupants on the ground floor.

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.