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Tualatin building department tight fit to be relieved

The building department's revenue for fiscal year 2005-06 exceeds estimates by 39 percent

TUALATIN - Tualatin's Building Department employees have spent the last 10 years watching Tualatin grow. From residential homes to commercial development, building officials have seen firsthand, from start to finish, the construction of new structures.

But all the while, department employees were hoping for a little room to grow themselves.

Last week, Tualatin Building Official John Stelzenmueller swiveled in his chair that's wedged between his two desks. He sat with his back to the red brick wall that encloses two sides of his 180-square-foot office.

'It's always been like this,' he said, referring to the workload that floods through the building department's doors on a daily basis.

In the last year, the department has conducted more than 8,000 inspections and issued about 1,650 building permits - including plumbing, structural and mechanical permits.

Just a few inches from the edge of Stelzenmueller's desk are filing cabinets stuffed with paperwork, and across the room is a bookshelf crowded with binders. The floor provides a walkway for foot traffic bordered by standing rolls of architectural blue prints.

And, oh yeah, Stelzenmueller shares the office with another Building Department employee. The department has seven employees, most of whom work in less than 500 square feet of space available at City Hall, he added. Some mornings, building department employees get to work early not only for a head start but for a chance to utilize the front counter space.

Some of the larger site plans associated with projects are too large to unroll on a regular desktop. The counter space is optimal for plan reviews but not always available during the hours when the City Hall is open.

Stelzenmueller admits it's a tight fit in the office and getting tighter. But a smile crosses his face when he talks about plans to add an additional 800 square feet to the department.

The plans are about two years old, Stelzenmueller estimated. But he's had the desire to expand the department's office space for 10 years.

A review of the 2006-07 fiscal year budget puts the building department's expansion project at about $132,500. Not too much to ask, considering the department's revenue for FY 2005-06 exceeded budget projections by 39 percent - about $280,800, according to the city's budget overview.

'We're kind of the silent department - most necessary but the least obvious,' Stelzenmueller noted. 'The only time someone knows we're around is when they need a permit.'

It's been going on in Tualatin for the last 20 years. Development of residential homes and businesses has been steadily filling out the city limits. In July 2005, city officials reported a 2.1 percent increase in its population from the previous year. More than 25,400 people call the city home.

In the coming fiscal year, city officials expect the addition of at least 110 single-family dwellings and an 80-unit multi-family complex. The city already uses two third-party providers who also do plan reviews for projects in the city, Stelzenmueller said.

Commercial development winding down Lower Boones Ferry Road is also an approaching reality as businesses begin to spin off of the popularity of the Bridgeport Village shopping complex.

Bridgeport Village, a still growing retail center, proved to be a large project for the Tualatin building department. The city's plans examiner Jerry Wade works out of a corner of an unfinished office in the shopping complex. A paper sign declares a desk and workspace as the 'Tualatin Engineering Department.' The temporary satellite office gives Wade some room to move around and unroll the large traditional packets of blue prints that have come fast and in bulk with the multi-million dollar project.

The walls of the satellite office are bare and offer no covering for the pink insulation. Wade and a part-time employee share the space, which is provided by the complex's developers, with security and other ground services.

On July 12, the department will have hit its first year mark working out of the temporary office. But plans by Bridgeport Village developers, CenterCal, to build a second retail project, Nyberg Woods, may keep Wade working out of the satellite office for another year or two, Stelzenmueller said.