Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No more reams of blueprints

Ketchum switching to online building-plan submittals

Express Staff Writer

Cedric “Suds” Knehans of the Idaho Division of Building Safety has been relocated to Ketchum to usher in the transition to ProjectDox, a web-based program allowing contractors to submit building plans online. Photo by Willy Cook

Construction of new buildings has fallen to almost nothing in Ketchum, but the city is still receiving upward of 11,000 map-sized blueprint pages a year for remodels, re-roofings, additions and the like, all needing building permits.

Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's director of community and economic development, said these small projects require 26-page plans, on average. However, large projects like Bald Mountain Lodge require 400-500 pages, and the city always needs three copies.

A room at City Hall is stacked high with rolls and rolls of blueprints. But it will soon be nearly empty as the city transitions to a web-based application process, ProjectDox, allowing contractors to submit plans online from anywhere. Saving trees is just the beginning of efficiencies to come for Ketchum's Planning and Zoning Department.

Bend, Ore., has been using ProjectDox for more than three years, according to Building Official Robert Mathias. He said plans are now reviewed in half the time because of the elimination of tedious tasks such as leafing through reams of blueprints looking for the right page or trying to compare an original blueprint with changes made on an updated plan. He said ProjectDox allows an updated plan to be laid over the original to clearly see the changes. He also said the computer program allows different layers of one plan to be laid on top of each other to make sure everything within the building is aligned.

He said gone is the need for multiple copies. The program, being web-based, can be accessed from anywhere and simultaneously. Contractors can even follow the progress of their application under review.

"The difference is night and day," Mathias said. "It's really progressive. For a thousand years, everyone has known that when you submit plans, you bring in the plans. No more."

Starting today, Bend is only accepting applications through ProjectDox, which Mathias said has supported any programs that contractors have used up to now. He said contractors were apprehensive at first, but the transition was smooth. Mathias pointed out that contractors have been using computer-aided drafting, commonly called CAD, for many years. Plus, it benefits contractors.

He said out-of-town developers no longer have to travel to Bend to submit and explain plans. "These are things I didn't even consider when doing this," Mathias said.

Horowitz said Ketchum also sees its share of out-of-town developers planning to build in Ketchum, some flying in from as far as New York just to submit plans.

Mathias said in-town developers also reap the rewards. He said that with on-lined submissions, the back-and-forth between the city and developers is quick easy, and secure.

Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks said the switch was a no-brainer, especially since it doesn't need to pay a penny for the program. Ketchum has reached a preliminary agreement with the Idaho Division of Building Safety to use its $300,000 ProjectDox package, a transition Boise is also in the process of completing.

"That's what is so sweet about this deal," Marks said. "It was just a fabulous opportunity we couldn't pass up."

He said the program would greatly expedite the small department's review of big projects such as Bald Mountain Lodge, Warm Springs Ranch Resort and Sun Valley Resort's base village at River Run, that are expected to soon apply for building permits. He said that even though Ketchum is a small town, the magnitude and complexity of Ketchum construction exceeds that of the usual Idaho rural town.

Marks said the partnership is expected to save the city $50,000 a year. As a result of the transition, the city has replaced its building inspector, Dennis Keierleber, with state employee Cedric "Suds" Knehans. Knehans will administer the new program, train staff and serve as the building inspector. He is a former contractor and building inspector of 30 years. The state has been using the program since 2008.

Marks said there has not been a definite date set to switch to the new system.

Trevon Milliard:

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