GREENFIELD — With more than 60 years of combined construction experience under their belts, the area’s two new public building inspectors have hit the ground running.
The city of Greenfield and Hancock County hired new building inspectors in the spring, filling vacancies in their departments. The jobs are important: Inspectors address blighted properties and ensure new homes are safely constructed.
Scott Williams is the new county inspector, and Erikk Knapp is the new city inspector. Both say their background in construction helps them perform their jobs and relate to builders.
“This is probably the most critical inspection,” said Williams on a mid-point inspection this week on a new house near New Palestine.
Williams, checking on the electrical wiring and plumbing before drywall could be installed in the home, says while he’s still getting up to speed on state codes, his building background gives him the natural knack for spotting errors.
“I’ve been fairly comfortable in the position, just because I know the process; I’ve seen all the inspection reports.”
Williams, 49, of New Palestine, started building with his father’s business, Williams Builders, at age 15. He went on to buy the company and construct custom homes for 20 years until his business was hit in 2007 with the downturn of the housing market.
Williams Builders closed, and Scott Williams went on to work in construction-related jobs in building cabinets, hanging drywall and painting. When the building inspector position opened at the county annex, Williams knew it was a good fit.
“I always wanted to get back into building in some phase, but I didn’t want to go through the risk again,” he said.
On the job since late April, Williams said it’s been a smooth transition, even though there are some big-ticket projects to undertake. There are hundreds of outdated building permits in the office; Williams said he tackles the paperwork when he has spare time at the end of each day.
“I’ve always been self-employed, a self-starter, so doing paperwork and catching up is not a big challenge for me because I had to be able to multi-task,” he said.
What to do with the outdated permits is still in question. County commissioners could require the building department to go back out and inspect the houses, swimming pools and structures that need a final review, some dating as far back as 2008. But they’ll have to decide how aggressively to wrap up the problem, and whether to charge homeowners fees.
Williams said once he categorizes each outdated permit, he’ll go back to the commissioners and see how they want to address the problem.
Later this year, he added, Williams will also begin to tackle vacant, blighted buildings in the county. Unsafe and distressed structures are something commissioners have been trying to address in the past few years, but when they’re tied up in foreclosure or other legal entanglements, it makes for a legal headache.
Blight is something city officials have also been striving to address, and Knapp says he has not yet created a plan with with the city’s zoning administrator on how to tackle the issue.
Still, Knapp said he’s keeping plenty busy since he started in early March. Knapp, who has worked in architectural design and has also remodeled homes, said he’s come “full circle” now in his new position as building inspector.
“It’s given me more of an in-depth look at construction; a view of how to try to help these guys keep moving and be more efficient,” Knapp said.
Knapp, 45, of Greenfield, said he’s enjoying his job and while his background in construction definitely helps, he’s also “learning nuances” of the building code.
The statewide building code outlines rules for construction, but many of them are subject to interpretation of the building inspectors. Both Knapp and Williams said they didn’t have too many problems with inspectors when they were working in construction, but there can be times where there are differences of opinion on whether something can pass. If an inspection does not pass, the entire construction process slows down and the builder must pay for a re-inspection fee.
“Bottom line, the building official has the last say,” Williams said.
Both do an average of six inspections a day, and both said they hope their experience makes the process smooth for everyone involved.
Knapp wants to be helpful to those trying to erect new structures throughout the city.
“I’m trying to be more of a help than a hindrance,” Knapp said. “It doesn’t do you any good to just puff your chest up.”