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City Spends Extra $44K for Fan Safety at Ballpark

Officials discovered mid-installation that Florida Auto Exchange Stadium needed a safer, more expensive style of railing to better prevent fans from falling from the top row.

New railing installed at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in January may have been up to code, but it wasn’t safe enough to stay — at least, not for city fire officials.

City officials agreed to fork over an extra $44,000 just weeks after railing was installed as part of the original $53,000 project, so it could be replaced with a safer, more expensive style in time for the first spring training game Saturday.

“These are protecting folks, pretty much, from heights,” City Manager Rob DiSpirito said. “There are some pretty good drops.”

The first 151 feet of railing had been installed around the top level of the grandstand, separating the top row of fans from a three-story drop to the ground. The latest railing has vertical bars about 4 inches apart. It is considered safer than the previously installed railing, which had six horizontal “rungs” that children could potentially climb like a ladder, DiSpirito said. 

The city originally ordered the horizontal-style railing and was in the middle of installation when it was discovered that state fire code specified a strong preference for the other type of railing.

“There’s no question there was a mistake, and we regret that,” Tom Burke, city engineer, told Dunedin commissioners at their Feb. 16 meeting.

At least 22 deaths are attributed to falls at Major League Baseball stadiums since 1969, according to an August 2011 ESPN report. Last year, two deadly falls — one in July at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, TX, the other in May at Coors Field in Denver — prompted officials at some MLB stadiums to rethink the weight given to fans’ view when setting safety standards for railing height, according to ESPN.

The Dunedin ballpark hasn’t had any major incidents since it was built in 1977*, but DiSpirito told commissioners that he wanted to “avoid any opportunity for that kind of mishap to happen here.”

The new, vertical-style railing is the same height as the older, horizontal railing — roughly 54 inches, or 4 and a half feet.

“They do present a remarkable difference in appearance,” Burke said. “They are a safer form of handrail, and they are appropriate for what we’re doing.”

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