by Dennis Dalman
Quite often, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you the most.
Just ask Nathan Bonzelet, Sartell’s new building inspector.
Almost every day he meets at least one resident who tells him, voice full of surprise, “I didn’t know that!”
Smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors are just two examples. Everybody knows the importance of periodic battery replacement, but not too many know the detectors themselves wear out, often between seven and 10 years. They should be checked and then replaced with new ones, Bonzelet advises.
There are all kinds of dangers lurking in a house or business that has not been inspected properly – both before and after construction. Such hazards can include structurally unsound areas, water heaters or furnaces that can go haywire, unsafe stairs or outdoor steps, a poorly vented fireplace, shoddy electrical work that can start fires, and so many more dangers.
That is why cities, including Sartell, require a thorough inspection through the permit process before a house or project is undertaken with on-site checks by building inspectors while the work is underway and after it is completed.
Developers, contractors, builders or homeowners apply to the city for a permit to have projects done. The plans are reviewed for approval by the staff and building inspectors. If approved, the permit fees are paid and work can begin, with follow-up checks later by inspectors.
“On a typical day I do about three on-site inspections,” Bonzelet said. “Then other times I’m out there inspecting all day. And in summer, inspectors often run-run all day long.”
Bonzelet (pronounced bons-uh-lay) was hired by the city in January and is one of five employees in the Sartell Inspection Department. Bonzelet mainly focuses on overseeing and inspecting residential houses and projects. A second building inspector, Mark Finn, mostly oversees and inspects commercial projects. The other department employees are Jill Hollenkamp, development specialist; Megan Theisen, administrative specialist; and Butch Rieland, fire marshal.
Many residents are surprised when they learn they need permits approved by the city for certain kinds of projects and/or improvements to homes or businesses. Among such projects are decks, handicapped ramps, door replacement, attic alterations and insulation, fireplace installation, lawn-irrigation systems, stairs-and-steps and re-roofing.
If considering a project, it is best to check the Sartell website, then click to go to its Inspection Department. There will be a long list of projects that require city permits – obvious ones such as for a new house and less-obvious ones such as siding a house or putting in a patio. Some projects like bathroom remodeling and demolition jobs might need a permit and might not, depending on the elements of the project.
Born in Milaca, Bonzelet, who is 37, grew up in Foley and graduated from Foley High School. He graduated from St. Cloud Technical and Community College with a degree in architectural-construction technology and drafting. He worked various jobs in sales and drafting and then worked as a civil-engineering technician for Benton County before accepting the Sartell job.
He and his wife, Desirae, have three children: Mathew, Alyssa and Tori. The family lives just north of Foley. Desirae is employed by Stearns County as a trainer in the public welfare financial program.
Bonzelet enjoys outdoor activities: hunting, fishing, golf, softball.
He said he enjoys his new job and noted the virus pandemic has changed how the permitting process is handled.
“We can do all permits now electronically without having the applicants come to the office in person,” Bonzelet said. “What I do basically is review plans before issuing permits and then do inspections to make sure everything is up to code. Mark (Finn) does the same for commercial buildings, and Butch (Rieland, fire marshal) does the same to make sure everything complies with the city’s fire code. We consider ourselves public servants, and our goal is to make the city’s residents and businesses as safe as possible.”