Lisa Vieau is Chair of the Association of Minnesota Building Officials.
Lisa Vieauâ€™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. â€œWe need minorities. Now is a good time to get in,â€ he said. She started in their apprenticeship program in 1983. â€œOnce they got the Sheetrock up, I would come in and finish the drywall â€” taping, second coat, third coat, sanding. I got it ready for painters to come through.â€ There werenâ€™t classes back then. â€œI learned everything on the job,â€ she said.
â€œWhen 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 â€” probably four or five stories high. He grabbed a couple boxes of mud â€” 62 pounds each â€” and he said, â€˜Now you take two and follow me up.â€™ I carried those two boxes up and when we got to the top, I said, â€˜There. I hope I proved my point. Donâ€™t ask me again. We have laborers for that.â€™â€
Although she initially thought the drywall trade was â€œsomething I was going to retire at,â€ she changed her mind after her first child was born. â€œItâ€™s a lot harder on your body as a woman opposed to a man,â€ 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.
â€œSt. Michael offered a three-month paid internship. I learned on the job â€” plan review, simple inspections, footing inspections and that kind of thing,â€ she said. She got a job in a Twin Cities suburb as a residential combination inspector, doing building, mechanical and plumbing inspections. When the cityâ€™s residential plans examiner retired, she moved into that job.
â€œI love working with homeowners and contractors,â€ she said. â€œWhen you look at a city, you think fire and police. If houses are safe and donâ€™t collapse, thank a code inspector.â€
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 donâ€™t have to have construction knowledge, but itâ€™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 â€” commercial or residential or plan review. Weâ€™re looking to see what can we do to get more people involved. A lot of our people come from the trades. Weâ€™re going to be really hurting in five to 15 years.
Whatâ€™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, â€œthank you â€” you really go over and above.â€ Itâ€™s gratifying to know Iâ€™m not looked at as a burden but more of a go-to gal.
Photo Credit: Tom Witta