GOSHEN — City and county building offices are still issuing permits for construction and renovation projects as people use the stay-at-home order to carry out home improvements.
Building inspectors say they’re doing permitting and inspection a little differently under the threat of spreading COVID-19 but indicated the demand hasn’t really slowed.
“We haven’t seen more permits come through (but) I drive by Menard’s two to three times a day and the parking lot’s full, so something’s going on,” said Myron Grise, assistant building commissioner for the City of Goshen.
While many folks visiting home improvement stores were there for work or for minor repairs, others are taking the time away from work to finish projects or start new ones.
Ryan Medlen, of Middlebury, decided to use his free time to build a playhouse for his four children.
“We’re all cooped up, so this will give the kids something to do and get them to get outside,” he said. “I knew I had a bunch of stuff in the garage that was left over from the previous owner so I started throwing it all together,” he said.
With one wall and a roof left to build, he ran out of lumber so he headed to Menard’s to pick up the rest of the needed supplies.
“It’s nothing major. It’s not going to stand forever,” he said.
Tom Klunder, of Goshen, is working on a more permanent project, adding a stairway to his garage attic.
“I’ve got a bunch of wasted space up there,” he said. “I’m retired anyways, only this time I’ve got my wife home with me.”
Others are making improvements inside the house.
Kyle Miler and his family are making improvements to rooms, adding drywall and routing all new electrical throughout their Nappanee home.
Lumber yards, including Morsches Builders Mart, remain open, though the local chain said it’s taking precautions like disinfecting bathrooms and credit card machines more often. It’s also taking orders over the phone.
“We do a lot of new construction, so that’s all we’ve kind of been doing. Every now and then there’s some people in here doing something,” said Ryan Holke, assistant manager of the Goshen location. “We’ve been going steady. It hasn’t slowed down at all.”
Grise said the Building Department office is closed to the public along with other Goshen City offices, so the permitting process is being handled online. He said he still has to make inspections of finished work in person, but he’s mindful of not getting within 6 feet of other people.
“A lot of things have slowed down, but there’s still a lot to keep me busy,” he said. “I’m keeping my distance and not having them sign for it. I’m just putting it in the computer so it’s documented.”
Kevin Williams, the building commissioner and code enforcement manager for Elkhart County, said the office is open to only one person at a time. The doors are locked and people have to call ahead to be let in.
“I haven’t noticed any more than usual. There’s still been quite a few people getting permits, but we were busy before the shutdown,” he said. “We’re trying to do permits through email, try to get the plans and do most of the work through email. You can pay for it, and if you have a site plan already, it’s pretty easy to email and get everything done. We would just have the person come in after it’s done and sign the permit, and then we give them the permit card. Kind of limit our contact with them though.”
In-person inspections are still being carried out, but they’re being extra cautious when it comes to occupied structures.
“Our inspectors have been working this whole time. They’re very busy – busier than I thought they would be – and usually when they go out to a job site, there’s little if anybody around. And we’re just asking if a contractor does have them come out, they avoid the inspector and try to avoid face-to-face contact.”
In cases where contact with other people is harder to avoid, Williams said he would leave it up to the inspector what to do. He said they might refuse to do an inspection in an occupied house if they thought it would put them or others at risk.
“We feel something like that could either wait till this is over or maybe they could send us some pictures,” he said. “We try to do the best we could, but definitely don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy.”