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Building official Rowan ensures construction work, home renovations complies with code


Ryan Hermens

There is $120 million worth of construction taking place throughout Sidney right now, with another $20 million set to begin this summer.

With $120 million in construction taking place around Sidney – and another $20 million set to begin in the next three months – Sidney Chief Building Official Brad Rowan doesn't have a lot of idle time.

"I don't have to look for things to do," he said Tuesday afternoon while driving his city vehicle to a home on the east side for an inspection of a basement the homeowner is finishing himself.

According to his cell phone, Rowan had 310 incoming calls last week. By 4 p.m. on Tuesday – a typical workday – he had received 75 phone calls and walked 5,513 steps, recorded by an app on his phone.

Nearly two years into his job in Sidney, Rowan brings 20 years of construction experience. He's also inspected buildings in 30 states and across five international borders. He'll add another pair of countries this summer when he travels to Haiti and the Dominican Republic for a working vacation.

"Even when I'm not working, I'm working," he said with a brief laugh.

As the city's only building inspector, Rowan knows Sidney in a way few others do.

A quick, 15-block jaunt from downtown to a construction site is punctuated by "just finaled that house," and "the kitchen was recently remodeled here," and "we just issued a fence permit there."

As he pulls up to the address where the basement construction is taking place, he greets a contractor framing a house for a different project across the street. Once out of the vehicle, the two shake hands and use each others' first names.

In an exchange repeated multiple times throughout the afternoon, the official and contractor trade a few back and forths, each giving the other a good-natured hard time. A grin and chuckle always follow.

Having been on the other side, Rowan said he understands the pressures builders face. He does what he can to make their jobs easier while ensuring construction is safe and up to par.

Instead of simply saying something doesn't meet code, he'll offer solutions if asked.

Any major construction in town – from residential to commercial – must be signed off by Rowan. The only exception is electrical permits, which are done through the state.

At the basement job, Rowan explains a few issues with the homeowner.

"It's easier to work through a potential problem before it becomes a problem," Rowan said later in his white Ford Escape adorned with city logos and an orange light bar atop, on the way to his next construction site. "There's more than one way to achieve the intent of the code."

The building official's days begin at 6:15 a.m. at his office in city hall. There, he reads and responds to emails, reviews permit applications and returns phone calls.

"I like to respond to people the day they contact me," he said. "I have a great deal of respect for people's time."

Construction permit fees vary depending on the scope of the project. At the low end, a permit for minor renovations will set a homeowner back $30. Major construction – such as the Cabela's headquarters expansion – can cost nearly $70,000.

"I collect what the council has set up in ordinance," he said.

Last year, Rowan's department paid for itself.

Although he'd already been at the new hospital site earlier in the day, Rowan returned in the afternoon to explain a plumbing issue and sign off on a mechanical permit.

Ryan Hermens

Brad Rowan is Sidney's chief building official. He visits commercial and residential sites daily to ensure construction is up to code.

Many inspectors require inspections be scheduled 24 hours in advance. Conversely, Rowan said he hands out his cell phone number and will do his best to be on site as soon as possible – even if it means multiple visits a day.

This, he said, stems from his experiences as a contractor. He doesn't like to keep people waiting.

While he never thought he'd be a building official, Rowan said he enjoys his job. And he enjoys helping people.

Largely out of sight of the general public, he said his job is to ensure safety.

As Tuesday afternoon waned into the early evening, Rowan headed back to his office. In just a few hours, he had stopped by numerous projects throughout the city and visited with nearly a dozen contractors in person. His phone also seemed to never stop ringing as appointments were setup for Wednesday.

Just another day, he said.


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