Building Officials: Enforcers or Educators? Bill Ondulich Takes a Look

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Bill Ondulich Bill Ondulich

What is it that a building official does day in and day out? Technically, the definition of this role is “administering and enforcing the adopted building code” — but is the key word in that phrase “enforcing”? Many people think that a professional in this position is — or perhaps should be — less an enforcer, and more an educator. Building official Bill Ondulich looks a little deeper into the semantic divide.

It’s a truism, Bill Ondulich says, that the more education a building official has to do, the less enforcement he or she will be tasked with down the line. That’s simply because the entire process from design to construction to approval of code compliance will go more smoothly when everyone involved in that process is working from the same playbook.

One of the core duties of a building official, according to Bill Ondulich, is staying up-to-date with advances and changes to local codes. After all, he is the one who is in charge of ensuring that structures of every stripe are in adherence to those codes, for the good of not just the structure itself, but of course for the people who work and live in and around them. It only makes sense, therefore, that a building official should act as something of a town crier or roving journalist in the design, build, and construction industries.

Yes, Bill Ondulich explains, it is the responsibility of professionals at all levels to also stay educated about the current codes. However, in reality we know that this isn’t always possible. Doctors cannot and do not keep up-to-the-minute on articles and research published in medical journals; there is simply too much material for them to digest and make sense of themselves while still seeing patients and performing other, more pressing duties.

Sure, a breakthrough in treatment might benefit one of those patients, but it’s a needle and haystack situation. Doctors must rely on intermediaries to convey synopses and round-ups within their field, then follow up on the most promising research papers. The same is true for engineers, construction managers, contractors, designers, and other professionals who are in the building field.

Enforcing codes is always going to be an aspect of the building official’s daily duties, says Bill Ondulich. Enforcing laws and rules is an essential part of every industry and facet of society. However, that doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve 100% compliance — and one of the most effective ways to do that is through education, whether it is on a structured or a grassroots basis.