Lisa Vieau is Chair of the Association of Minnesota Building Officials.

Lisa Vieau’s father was a plasterer. She was just out of high school, working as a supermarket checker, when he told her that his company was starting a drywall operation. “We need minorities. Now is a good time to get in,” he said. She started in their apprenticeship program in 1983. “Once they got the Sheetrock up, I would come in and finish the drywall – taping, second coat, third coat, sanding. I got it ready for painters to come through.” There weren’t classes back then. “I learned everything on the job,” she said.

“When I first got into the trade, this older gentleman was the taping foreman. We were working on a church in Bloomington. The whole top of the sanctuary was scaffolded off – probably four or five stories high. He grabbed a couple boxes of mud – 62 pounds each – and he said, ‘Now you take two and follow me up.’ I carried those two boxes up and when we got to the top, I said, ‘There. I hope I proved my point. Don’t ask me again. We have laborers for that.'”

Although she initially thought the drywall trade was “something I was going to retire at,” she changed her mind after her first child was born. “It’s a lot harder on your body as a woman opposed to a man,” she said. Working winters and trying to get to building sites around the Twin Cities were also challenges. She went back to college and completed a Building Inspection and Technology program.

“St. Michael offered a three-month paid internship. I learned on the job – plan review, simple inspections, footing inspections and that kind of thing,” she said. She got a job in a Twin Cities suburb as a residential combination inspector, doing building, mechanical and plumbing inspections. When the city’s residential plans examiner retired, she moved into that job.

“I love working with homeowners and contractors,” she said. “When you look at a city, you think fire and police. If houses are safe and don’t collapse, thank a code inspector.”

Was there a time when your inspection saved the day?

There was some bad soil in one of the corners of a new addition. At that point, I believe I had a concrete truck waiting to pour the footing. I had to not pass that footing inspection because we had bad soils. They took out the bad organic soil, replaced it with good compactable soil. I averted a possible major problem with sinking one corner of this addition.

Does your drywall background help you as a building official?

You don’t have to have construction knowledge, but it’s helpful. To get state certified you need core classes, then a test.

Is there a demand for building officials?

We are gong to be lacking in qualified people to do inspections – commercial or residential or plan review. We’re looking to see what can we do to get more people involved. A lot of our people come from the trades. We’re going to be really hurting in five to 15 years.

What’s the best part about being a building official?

People call me from all over the state when they have code questions. I get lots of people who call and say, “thank you – you really go over and above.” It’s gratifying to know I’m not looked at as a burden but more of a go-to gal.

Photo Credit: Tom Witta

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