Date: Fri 09-Jan-1998

Date: Fri 09-Jan-1998

Publication: Bee

Author: ANDYG

Quick Words:


Full Text:

Brinley Will Step Down As Building Inspector

(with cut)


Al Brinley has worn many different hats for many years. On January 30, he's

going to hang one of them up

Mr Brinley is leaving town service at the end of the month, after almost 15

years as the town's building official. A Southbury resident, Mr Brinley also

has served as one of Newtown's four deputy fire marshals.

Before coming to work in Newtown in 1983, Mr Brinley was employed at

Southbury's building department for four years, two of those years as the

building official.

Mr Brinley is known for his strict building inspections which require builders

to meet the letter of the law in their projects. With all the building in

Newtown in recent years, he has also been a very busy man.

"I feel 20 years of this (building inspection) is enough," Mr Brinley said in

an interview in his office at Canaan House at Fairfield Hills.

He spoke about his work in a rare interview sandwiched between his review of

blueprints for Sonics and Materials, Inc's, renovated factory on Church Hill

Road and plans for an assisted-living expansion project at Ashlar of Newtown,

an elderly care facility on Toddy Hill Road.

The building department ensures that construction plans for projects meet

applicable building codes and fire safety codes. It also makes sure that the

structures which are eventually built comply with those plans.

His service as a deputy fire marshal in Newtown has helped Mr Brinley see

construction projects from the perspectives of both a building inspector and a

fire safety official. (He is also Southbury's fire marshal.)

Fire marshals enforce fire safety codes and investigate the causes of fires.

They issue blasting permits, inspect gasoline service stations, supervise the

removal of underground fuel storage tanks, and inspect buildings for fire

safety, among other tasks.

Building inspectors should know the fire code so that the building code and

fire code mesh together in construction projects, Mr Brinley said.

"We're all out (there) for the public health and safety," he said.

Mr Brinley said a prevalent attitude among the public is "A fire always

happens to someone else. A building collapse always happens to someone else."

But these tragedies are experienced by people, not by "someone else," he


Busy Town

Newtown is the busiest town in the state in terms of new residential

construction, Mr Brinley said, noting that more than 200 new homes have been

built here annually in each of the last five years.

"I've always tried to be non-political. I've always tried to do my work

fairly," he said.

Builders who submit incomplete plans for non-residential projects make their

inspections more complicated than they need to be, he said.

It is important for building inspectors to see a complete set of plans for a

project so that during their initial review they can spot any problems that

might crop up during the course of construction, he said.

"Everybody wants something (inspected) yesterday, but they don't want to

produce on their end," Mr Brinley said of builders wanting partial approvals.

Such situations have occurred many times in the past several years, he said.

"Everybody's trying to (build) on a shoestring. Very seldom do I see a

complete set of (non-residential) drawings," he said.

"It's not fun dealing with people who don't want to hold up their end of the

bargain," he said, noting that if builders can't produce complete and detailed

plans for a construction project, they shouldn't blame the building department

for delays, he said.

Builders who have been working in town for many years are not normally the

builders who pose building inspection problems, he added.

The building inspector suggested that a mechanism be created through which

governments are not required to award construction bids to the lowest

qualified bidder on a project, Mr Brinley said. The practice can drive down

the quality of the work, he observed.

Mr Brinley pointed to the Booth Library expansion project as an example of

this problem. The project was off to an inauspicious start when it was found

that library foundation work had been done poorly and would have to be redone,

he said.

The library project lacked the coordination that is needed to get a project

done properly and on time, according to the building inspector. Coordination

between the general contractor and the subcontractors was poor, he said, and

the architectural plans lacked sufficient detail. "The coordination was


"The town should be setting the example in the construction of buildings," he


After repeated delays, the town fired the general contractor on the library

project and brought in another firm to get the work done.

Fast Track

Builders want to construct buildings on the "fast track," or push through

projects via the "design/build" approach, resulting in piecemeal construction

planning of dubious value, he said.

And when the various pieces of an overall design do not mesh, "Nobody wants to

be responsible for someone else's work," he said. When the electrical or

plumbing aspects of a project are planned in isolation from the heating or

structural aspects of it, major construction and usability problems can occur

down the road, he noted.

Such piecemeal planning can result in fire exits, sprinkler systems and wiring

not complying with applicable codes, he said, adding, "And these things bother


Mr Brinley said he is no longer impressed with engineers and architects

because some of the plans they draw for buildings are sorely lacking. They

want to get jobs done fast, resulting in inadequate planning, he said.

"We've (building department) tried to do the job right, a quality job rather

than a quantity job," he said.

At some times, there has been so much construction taking place, the workload

has resulted in construction plans requiring more than the maximum 30 days to

review, he said.

During the past year, the sewage treatment plant, Newtown High School, Hawley

School, Booth Library, The Mary Hawley Inn, Neumade Products Corp., and the

Big Y supermarket have been undergoing construction. During the construction

of those projects, builders would sometimes request building inspections for

the same times and dates, he said.

The past two years have been the busiest construction period in Newtown in the

past 15 years, according to the building inspector.

In some cases, having additional assistant building inspectors would help

expedite building inspections, he said, and he urged that the state institute

some type of formal training to educate people to become building inspectors,

rather than letting building inspectors learn their trade on their own.

As of now, all that is needed to become a building inspector is passing a

state test. But simply passing a test is not enough, Mr Brinley said, noting

that some people who pass a written test won't function well as a building

inspector in the field.

Insufficient Support

Beyond the problems posed by the submission of incomplete plans, Mr Brinley

said he feels that the town government during the past 15 years has not always

supported the building department's doing a good and thorough job in its

inspection work.

The state calls for the fees collected by the building department to be

dedicated to running the department, Mr Brinley said. But while the department

has been collecting $400,000 to $450,000 in revenues annually, its budget is

only about $200,000, he added.

"I've had my plate pretty full for a number of years," Mr Brinley said, noting

it is time to retire as the town's building official.

"I'm just going to mow grass," he said.

Mr Brinley owns Gainfield Farms Golf Course, near Gainfield School in

Southbury. The nine-hole course which is open to the public is entering its

fifth season. Mr Brinley, 51, said he wants to physically improve the par-28


He will stay on as Southbury's fire marshal and may work as a substitute

building inspector in the future.

A Good Reputation

John Whitten is the senior field representative for Fuss and O'Neill, Inc, the

town's consulting engineering firm on the municipal sewer system. He said he

grew to respect the work Mr Brinley has done for the town.

"Al did his job. Al's a good building official. He did his job and he did it

well. He's a professional and he does his job as a professional would do his

job. Al is a very good building official and the town will miss him," Mr

Whitten said.

Local home builder Neal Berko, head of Four Square Builders, Inc, said "I

think Al Brinley did a terrific job as a building inspector. I think Newtown

has one of the finest schematics on how to get something approved."

"He (Brinley) doesn't deviate from the building code," Mr Berko said.

Many builders don't like the strict enforcement of the building code, Mr Berko

explained, noting that in some other towns builders are able to cut corners

due to lax building inspection.

Mr Berko said he admires Mr Brinley's thoroughness.

It takes a little time to get to know Al Brinley, but if you play by the

rules, you're treated well and treated fairly, he said. Also, Mr Brinley is

good at interpreting the subtleties of the building code, Mr Berko said.

Home builder Kim Danziger, head of Danziger Homes, Inc, said, "I thought Al

was an excellent source of information."

"[Brinley] had to protect the interests of the town" in his inspections, Mr

Danziger said. "I'm real sad to see him go," he added.

When builders complained about tough inspections it was because Mr Brinley

wouldn't allow them to cut corners in their projects, Mr Danziger said.

If a builder wanted to build things correctly, Mr Brinley was their ally, Mr

Danziger noted, but if they wanted to cut corners, the building inspector told

them to do the job right.