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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Chris Straw

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What is the role of the Building Development Services Department?
Building Development Services issues building permits and conducts inspections of the work that’s done to ensure that the safety of the structure meets the minimum standard. That’s our role citywide. We have about 25 employees.

Tell us about your professional history.

I’ve been with the city now going on 12 years in this department doing various jobs. I’m still filling the role of code administrator, which is primarily the supervisory position of the inspectors. Prior to (joining the city), I was corporate architect for Bell Building Systems – Ron Bell and the boys.

What types of work require building permits in the city?
The simple answer is that any work other than maintenance and repair in all likelihood will require some type of permit. Furnace and water heater replacement require a permit, and we inspect those to make sure they are installed safely.

Do you monitor whether there are projects under way without permits?

We do not aggressively or actively go out and search for those, but if we observe it or if someone calls in and says, “I think they’re doing work without a permit,” we will take what we call a service request and go and check into it. And if they don’t have a permit, we make them get a permit, do an inspection and go on.

Projects often require multiple inspections. What happens when there are problems?

If we find some deficiencies, we will turn the inspection down and (provide) a list of the discrepancies. Once they have corrected those discrepancies, they call us and we will go back out and make sure they have indeed done so, approve that inspection and move on to the next step. Safety is our main focus.

What misconceptions do you encounter about your department or permits?
People think that we’re here to restrict economic development and construction, but we really aren’t. Our purpose is to ensure that what is built meets minimum safety standards to provide a safe environment for people who are there. … There are some things that we have to say no to with regard to building.

The city and county have separate building services offices. Do you try to coordinate regulations?
We work together and try to coordinate the year of code editions that we follow. The county has some things that they have to do a little differently than we do, so they do their amendments to the code and we do ours, though we try to keep them as parallel as we can for the sake of the citizens. … The series of codes we are under is called the International Code Series, which is pretty uniform throughout the United States, and we only amend it to deal with the nuances that are particular to Springfield.

What trends do you see in permit types?
We’re seeing a lot of remodels and what I like to call the small additions to existing buildings – a home where they add a family room or they want to make a room a little bigger. The commercial side is the same way, people go in and need to add an office or reconfigure space.

What are some recent or upcoming changes to obtaining permits?
We used to allow people to call in and give us their (credit card) number and expiration date over the phone to pay for permits. To be protective of citizens, we eliminated that. We did implement a process whereby inspections can be requested online. It used to be that you had to call them in. Hopefully, right after the first of the year, we’re planning on releasing a program whereby some permits can be obtained online (for) a number of permits that are set fees, such as for water heater replacement. [[In-content Ad]]

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