'Building' trust with the community – Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

When he’s not calling balls and strikes on local baseball diamonds, Lockport’s veteran umpire Jason Dool still determines if things are “fair or foul” in his more important role as Lockport’s Chief Building Inspector.

Dool, 37, the son of Chris and Pat Dool of Lockport, and his small staff, which includes Senior Building Inspector Clayton Dimmick, play an important role in not only the construction of new buildings and structures throughout the city, but their planning and development from start to finish — and beyond.

Among many things, Dool and the city’s Building Inspection Department staff that works out of the second floor of City Hall is responsible for processing permits and handling complaints that can involve any one of Lockport’s 10,000 households.

Construction permit applications are expected to top 1,000 this year, while at the same time, complaints are up.

“We had about 500 complaints last year. This year, we’ve already had 1,250,” Dool said, while taking the US&J through a recent “inspection tour” of a major housing construction project on Elmwood Avenue on Lockport’s east side.

“Most complaints involve garbage, not so much drainage. Someone puts something out in the backyard that another person doesn’t want to look at. The grass height (grass on city lawns must not exceed 8 inches) or someone working without a permit are other complaints we commonly get and we look into every one of them,” Dool said. “Some days in the summer we get so many complaints that it might take a few days for us to get out there, but for the most part, we try to be as receptive as we can to the needs of the community. It takes a lot of time and a lot of moving around to get the job done, but it’s nice that you’re not stuck behind a desk all day.”

Walking to the top floor of the massive three-story building under construction across the street from the north end of Kibler Park, Dool and Dimmick look over framing and some of the completed walls and plumbing and other fixtures as they weaved their way through what will eventually will become a 651-bedroom facility. The anticipated completion date is the spring or summer of 2018.

“We come out periodically, but today we’re doing an interior inspection, checking the framing and essentially making sure that everything is laid out exactly the way they were drawn up and laid out and approved,” Dool said.

And while all construction plans in the city need to be pre-approval by Dool’s office, Dimmick pointed out that the city Building Inspection Department is involved with construction projects every step of the way and on major construction project projects, that includes the planning and foundation stages.

“We’re there every step of the way, from the time they start digging the foundation to the framing, plumbing and roof,” Dimmick said.

Occasionally, problems are discovered, but most times, they are easily resolved, both said.

“It’s much easier informing a contractor (about a violation) on projects of this level, than it is when you find something wrong on a household,” Dool said. “It’s a pretty easy fix and a small chunk out of the budget, but with the homeowner, especially after they got started without a permit and now they’ve got to change it and it just cost them 50 percent of their budget, that’s the tough one.”

One of the only major inspections the city’s BI department does not do is electrical. That’s handled by a third party, Dool said, as he weaved his way through a group of several different contractors working at the site. The Lockport Fire Department handles fire inspections, making sure proper alarms are in place and escape routes clear.

“There might be groups of people all over the place here in one day, from the plumbers, the electricians, the sprinkler guys, the audio visual guys, the insulation guys, the window guys, the siding guys  — there could be a couple dozen contractors here at once. It always differs,” Dool said. “Realistically, the way it works on projects like this is we’ll inspect different sections at different times throughout the project. Someone from my office or the general foreman might call and say, ‘I’ve got six units piped in’ and we’ll go and check them out.”

Besides multiple additions on residential homes throughout the city, among other construction project sites in the city this year are the Lockport Town & Country Club, Briarwood Manor, the Shamus Restaurant and the state Department of Transportation building along the Erie Barge Canal.

“First-floor additions are common. People don’t want to move, so they make additions, like first-floor bathrooms and bedrooms,” Dool said, adding that handicap codes also come into play more today than when he started with the city a decade ago. 

“The handicap and other codes have gradually worked their way up. Even simple things today like the type of drywall they use are important,” Dool said. “It’s not just a matter of, ‘Okay, the drywall is up,’ but making sure it’s the right kind.”

The most common building material locals use is wood, Dimmick said, and among the most popular structures city residents are tackling these days are pole barns.

“Another thing people might not realize about our work is the time we spend on the Planning Board and Variance Board,” Dimmick said. “Some might assume we just do inspections or housing, but we do pretty much everything, including handling complaints.”

An area of concern that Dool said he holds close to his heart is pools. As the father of two young children, he says it’s critical that homeowners make safety a priority.

“People today can go walk into any Walmart and buy drive home with a pool,” Dool said. “They’re so cheap and they’re up in a matter of a day. Pools need fences around them. You feel bad about throwing the kids out, but that’s one of those things I have a pet peave about. I get nervous about kids falling in there. And decks need railings.”

Dool and his wife, Maria, have two children, Carter, 5; and Ellie, 3. Dool and Dimmick are assisted by Megan Brewer and Sheila Whalen.

Contact US&J Sunday Editor John D’Onofrio at 439-9222 ext. 6247.

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