Building a better future

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By Morgan Bryce
Associate Editor

Ensuring public safety through safe, quality construction is the goal of the City of Opelika’s Chief Building Inspector Jeff Kappelman and his team.
Kappelman, an Auburn native, joined the city in 2002, bringing over decades of construction experience.
Responsible for inspecting and monitoring all construction projects within Opelika’s city limits, Kappelman said he and his team are constantly working to keep up with demand.
“We saw somewhat of a slump during the ‘Great Recession’, but not that bad. Right now, things are just wide open,” Kappelman said. “I’ve got new subdivisions, houses are being built everywhere, commercial projects going, new hotels, a new cancer center, new fire and police department … all things I think that point to a very vibrant economy.”
Following is a breakdown of Kappelman’s job responsibilities and background on the codes he and his team enforce.
Building Codes
Currently, Opelika’s building codes are derived from the 2015 International Building Code, drawn up by the International Code Council.
Within its thousands of pages are exact details on every aspect of a project’s construction, according to the council website.
“The International Code Council is a member-focused association with (more than) 64,000 members. It is dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures,” according to the website’s information page. “The International Codes, or I-Codes, published by ICC, provide minimum safeguards for people at home, at school and in the workplace. The I-Codes are a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building safety and fire prevention codes. Building codes benefit public safety and support the industry’s need for one set of codes without regional limitations.”
Process of building approval
Kappelman explained that he and his team evaluate project blueprints before issuing a building permit, checking to make sure that the plans mirror the city’s code standard.
“Plan review is one of our standard responsibilities, which can be a bit tedious at times. Some of the plans are an inch thick or more, and there are some huge plans for some of the projects that we have going on in Opelika right now,” Kappelman said.
Once plans are approved, he said that they are responsible for checking up on the project until completion to ensure builders are abiding by code standards.
Play by the rules
In case of a code violation, Kappelman said he and his department have the authority to take legal action, including work-stop orders or citations.
“Violations of the code can be prosecuted by law. If someone doesn’t correct an issue, I can issue them a citation and take them to municipal court,” Kappelman said. “The penalties can be as high as $500, and 180 days in jail, which is significant. So, those serve as great incentives for people to cooperate.”
Kappelman added that the main objective of his department, however, is to protect the citizens they serve and provide information and resources to help make sure that projects are completed without incident.
“We’re building inspectors, but we’re actually educators more than anything,” Kappelman said.
Team members
Kappelman said his five-man department consists of highly experienced individuals who make his job easier.
Following is a list of building inspection team members and their job responsibilities:
David Chapman, building inspector, Kent Hollingsworth, electrical/building inspector, Jimmy Kirk, plumbing/mechanic inspector B.J. Lowery and Bill Ott, permit technicians.
For more information on the department and its mission, visit www.opelika-al.gov or call 334-705-5420.

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