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Executive orders give building officials greater flexibility amid outbreak (UPDATE)

Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order on Thursday that eases deadlines for state building inspectors, outlaws paper-plan submissions and exempts critical health-care projects from plan-review requirements, along with taking other steps to give state officials flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis.

The order eases rules for the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services to give the agency leeway amid the outbreak. In general, the order relaxes deadlines for when the department has to conduct building inspections and seeks to streamline construction approvals for projects that have been deemed critical — namely, those that are needed to provide medical care for COVID-19 patients.

 The outbreak is pressuring healthcare providers to quickly expand some facilities to deal with growing numbers of coronavirus patients. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for instance, is overseeing the construction of a temporary overflow center for COVID-19 patients at State Fair Park in West Allis, a project with an estimated completion date of April 24, according to a bid notice.

“The world is changing, and we can change with it,” DSPS Secretary-designee Dawn Crim said in a statement. “This order positions us to prioritize and facilitate critical work. It also enables us to extend the flexibility that our customers and constituents need right now. That way we can all focus on what is most important and do everything we can to keep our fellow Wisconsinites safe.”

The executive order makes a number of changes to plan-submission requirements for construction projects and changes rules for other occupations.

The order would waive time requirements for DSPS building inspectors to approve or deny building permits. For one- and two-family dwellings, for instance, inspectors were formerly required to return results within 10 business days. Now under the order, inspectors must respond within a “reasonable amount of time.” That language also applies to on-site inspections of public buildings and places of employment; inspections of mausoleums; inspections of elevators and lift equipment; and inspections for a camp unit building permit

 Jennifer Garrett, a DSPS spokeswoman, said waiving the time requirement for building inspections won’t delay commercial projects. Contractors can proceed with construction after 5 business days, although projects remain subject to inspection.  

“Removing the specific time limits gives the department and municipal partners the flexibility to work within this ever-evolving environment,” Garrett said. “We intend to continue to execute our responsibilities to the best of our ability without exposing staff or customers to unnecessary risk or subjecting projects to unnecessary delay.”

Other actions in the executive order include:

  • Allowing a master electrician to issue an affidavit to a utility company instead of receiving an inspection
  • Stretching the definition of buildings exempt from plan submission and review requirements so that it includes buildings of “critical need necessary for providing medical care in response” to COVID-19. That means buildings “used directly in the state’s COVID-19 response” aren’t subject to plan review, Garrett said.
  • Requiring fire-prevention inspections that have been postponed because of the outbreak to be made up at a later date. The DSPS will place a priority such inspections after the COVID-19 outbreak is over, according to the order
  • Allowing building plans to be submitted only by electronic means. The rule outlaws submissions of paper plans, which brings DSPS staff and their customers into direct contact.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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