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Top DSPS official proposes more changes to speed up plan reviews

Responding to recent complaints about delays in plan reviews, a top state official is calling for changes to standards that determine when project plans have to receive official approval.

Dawn Crim, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, said safety officials should consider moving away from the current system, which requires projects to be reviewed depending on characteristics such as their size and number of plumbing fixtures. Instead, she would have the state use a system that takes into account the risks a project might pose to the public. The factors considered might include building type and planned use and occupancy.

Crim called on the Commercial Building Code Council and the Plumbers Code Advisory Committee to study the current rules and put forward recommendations for improvement.

“Our professional councils and the public meetings process ensure that any changes we implement will be informed by the expertise of professionals who have deep knowledge of the code, who have vast experience in the industry, and who share our commitment to public safety,” Crim said in a release.

Crim has said the DSPS’s goal is to have the plan-review backlog whittled down before this year’s construction season gets going in full. To help the department reach this goal, Crim has already put one round of changes in These generally call for tightening up the standards used to decide when plans are ready to be submitted to the department for review.

One policy, for instance, requires contractors to pay fees before their plans can be considered complete. Another calls on DSPS staff employees to make sure plans are ready to be discussed at meetings by requiring reviews 48 hours in advance. If anything is found to be missing, state officials will have to reject plan documents, require contractors or architects to submit their plans again and cancel related meetings.

The department also plans to automatically cancel duplicate appointments made with state employees for the same set of plans. And the DSPS will have the option to temporarily suspend electronic scheduling for those who frequently make duplicate appointments.

The number of plans being reviewed by the DSPS has declined in the past two years after rising steadily from 2011 to 2017. In 2011, for instance, 6,441 plans were reviewed. By 2017, the number had increased to 8,845. But it fell in 2018, to 8,103, and again in 2019, to 7,408.

At the same time, the agency has been taking longer to complete reviews, going from 22 days on average in the first quarter of 2017 to 38 days in the first quarter of 2018. In Crim’s time in office, the average review time has gone from 43 days in the first quarter of 2019 to 35 days in the second quarter and then back up to 46 days in the third quarter.

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