Putting safety first | News, Sports, Jobs

Jill Schramm/MDN Images showing the deterioration of the columns of a Minot building will be displayed on a computer behind the city’s official master builder, Luke Tillema, on Thursday. Last year a catastrophe was avoided by actions by the city and the owner of the property after an inspection by an engineer.

When a pre-purchase inspection last year revealed significant structural damage to a building in downtown Minot, the Minot City Inspection Office was called in to prevent a potential collapse that could have resulted in loss of life.

The averted disaster spared Minot his own version of the larger Surfside, Florida incident last month, in which a 12-story beachfront condominium collapsed in pancakes, leaving 22 confirmed dead and 128 missing, as of 5 p.m. July 2 reports.

The Minot incident happened a little over a year ago, according to Luke Tillema, the construction officer for the city of Minot. Less than five months after completing his job as a construction officer, Tillema received a report from a structural engineer suggesting that the city ordered the evacuation of a building on Main Street due to imminent danger of collapse.

Tillema explains that a concrete floor with a vapor barrier was recently installed in the basement of the building, but for years the building had only a dirty floor, which allowed moisture to enter the structural columns.

“That moisture in that basement just eats away at the concrete and mortar, to the point where it exposed the rebar and did the same to the rebar,” said Tilema. “I have issued an eviction notice from that building. We evicted a company and a few families who lived above the company.”

The property owner financed alternative housing for the displaced tenants for about 10 days until the building could be stabilized.

Working with the city to assess the property, the building owner hired an engineer to design the repair. A local contractor carried out the work under the supervision of the city and resolved a crisis that could have affected neighboring buildings and tenants if the structure had fallen.

“Now it’s business as usual”, said Tilema.

Tillema said evacuating a building is a difficult decision, but in this case, the inconvenience was a small trade-off to potentially save lives.

The incident also highlights the importance of the work of building inspectors.

The City of Minot Building Inspectorate examines all new buildings in the city and the extraterritorial area as they are built. A new home is usually structurally inspected five times during the construction process to confirm it meets the building code, then given a final inspection when it’s complete, Tillema said. In addition, mechanical, electrical and plumbing inspectors call three to five times.

“The people who eventually buy the house or live in it, we have 100% certainty that they are safe in that building”, said Tilema.

Some cities have a schedule where they inspect existing buildings to look for problems. Surfside has a program, but the findings of the most recent inspection reportedly came too late for residents of the collapsed condominiums, Tillema said.

“We have not set up such a program at the moment, although we have been talking about it internally for about two years,” said Tilema.

The city inspectorate does interfere with existing buildings if problems are brought to the attention, such as with the building in the city center. Tillema said tenants who become aware of structural issues but are unable to resolve them in conjunction with property managers and owners should contact the city, which can usually work with owners to resolve issues.

The city has six inspectors. Three are specialized in commercial, residential or mechanical construction, two are electrical inspectors and one is senior inspector, who is also currently doing plumbing inspection due to a vacancy on staff. They all have extensive backgrounds in construction and crafts, says Tillema, who worked in the construction industry for 20 years before joining the city.

Tillema said Minot residents often fail to recognize the importance of the work of building code inspectors — until tragedy strikes somewhere.

Then he remarked, “It gives them a sigh of relief to know we’re here, I think. And I think we’re all doing pretty well. We have one of the best employees in the state for knowledge and experience and understanding the code and applying it correctly in the field. Everyone is a certified inspector through the International Code Council, which writes the books, so that’s quite a bit.”

Many building code requirements are there in response to tragedies, Tillema added.

“It all has a reason. and it is for the safety of people,” he said. “The main function of this department is to make sure you can walk into any building in the city and feel safe in it — that it’s built correctly and that it’s safe for people to occupy.”

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