Andover building official retires after 26 years

After 26 years of working with the city of Andover, Don Olson is retiring from the building official’s office.

Don Olson has worked for the city of Andover for 26 years, first as a city inspector and then as the building official for the last seven years. His last day is today (Friday, Aug. 2). Photo by Eric Hagen
Don Olson has worked for the city of Andover for 26 years, first as a city inspector and then as the building official for the last seven years. His last day is today (Friday, Aug. 2). Photo by Eric Hagen

Olson got his start in Andover as a building inspector when Dave Almgren was the building official. He took over the top spot in the department when Almgren retired about seven years ago.

“Leaving is going to be hard,” Olson said. “I’ve enjoyed working here. There’s tremendous people. I wouldn’t be here for 26 years if I didn’t enjoy it.”

Olson has enjoyed working with employees such as Herb Blommel, assistant building official; Britt Pease, building official secretary; Cindy DeRuyter, recycling coordinator, Anne Heppell, administrative assistant; and Jim Dickinson, city administrator.

The timing was right to retire for him personally, however. He turns 62 years old Aug. 4, just two days after his last day with the city. He is getting married in September to Jolynn Erikson. His wife of 36 years — Connie — died last year from breast cancer.

Olson will have more time to devote to walleye fishing and his tackle company. He and two of his children fish professionally.

A lot has changed in Andover in the past 26 years. Olson remembers cleaning up the mess left behind by the huge tire fire along Bunker Lake Boulevard and the subsequent redevelopment in this area that brought huge anchor businesses such Courtyards of Andover, Andover Cinema, Festival Foods and Target.

New elementary schools, a middle school and high school were constructed in the last 26 years. The Andover YMCA/Community Center has only been around for a little over a decade.

Although there have a lot of homes constructed in the last 26 years, fewer have been built in recent years compared with the height of the housing economy.

He remembers 500 home building permits in a single year and having to put in 14-hour days, Olson said. Forms had to be filled out by hand and appointment schedules were tracked on a chalk board, he said.

Everything can be done on computers now, which has made the process more efficient, Olson said. The office can utilize programs like GeoMOOSE to view overhead images of properties to get an early look at whether a proposed shed would fit where a homeowner wants it to go, according to Olson.

There have been industry changes from the time Olson was a home builder to a building inspector. Energy efficiency is much more prevalent from lighting to the furnaces and air conditioning and this has led to more environmental laws, Olson said.

As the recession slowed new construction, the building official’s department laid off a building inspector.

Home building is starting to pick up again, but not near the levels of the early 2000s, Olson said. About 80 new home building permits were issued in 2012, not counting the 70-unit senior housing facility being constructed, he said.

Olson’s position will be filled by Fred Patch, but there have been no discussions on filling the former city inspector position, according to City Administrator Jim Dickinson.

The economic downturn in the late 1970s and early 1980s is what led Olson down the path of working for the government. He had his own business constructing homes and pole barns before the high interest rates brought home building to a halt, according to Olson.

“At the time, interest rates climbed to 19 to 21 percent,” Olson said. “I lost everything, my business, because housing stopped in the 1980s.”

Olson thinks the housing recession from three decades ago was worse than the modern recession because of such high interest rates whereas rates were kept low more recently, he said.

Olson worked for the city of Blue Earth in its energy efficient, self-help housing program and as its building official. Big Stone County employed him in its housing and redevelopment authority program.

Olson got his building official certification through North Hennepin Community College.

“I respect the guys out in the field that are doing the work because I was there and did it myself, so I know what they go through and as an inspector my job is life safety,” Olson said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]