Following the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This multi-part seriesrecounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.
The first page of a set of building plans normally is the site plan. There were several site plans for this project on file with the township already, so I decided to take the site plan that the Township Board had already seen and update it with the new information. I filled out the form that accompanied the site plan and tried to get a hold of the person at the township who was responsible for signing off on the updated site plan.
The person who was responsible for signing our conditions of approval list was a part-time subcontractor for the township who was also the Zoning Administrator for several other townships in the area. This meant that we had to place several phone calls until he answered and then he agreed to receive the paperwork by email. He reviewed the site plan and looked over the list of conditions to see if we had done everything. Knowing that a few of the items on the list were to be completed near the end of the project, he signed off and that got us one step closer to submitting the paperwork for the building permit.
Sourcing ‘Select Structural’ Lumber
I called the structural engineer one more time to discuss a few specific areas of the project to make sure that I understood everything. One of the callouts that kept catching my eye was that every piece of lumber that I drew from the rafters to the floor joists was a grade of lumber called “select structural”. I had not heard of this grade of lumber before and the engineer explained that the lumber was stronger than conventional framing lumber. He said that we needed that grade of lumber to meet the floor and roof loads required by the commercial building code.
Because I was the builder on this project also, I asked him where he normally got this grade of lumber. “I don’t normally buy lumber, so I am not sure where,” the engineer told me. My immediate thought was that we had hit another snag in this process. I decided to send a message to our lumber representative to see if he knew where we could get this select structural lumber.
“I haven’t heard of that grade lumber in several years; it might be special order,” said our lumber representative. I wondered why the engineer would specify a grade lumber that wasn’t available. Before I gave up hope, I called another person that I knew in the lumber business and he was much more aware of this special grade lumber that we needed.
“Select structural lumber is the grade lumber the roof truss companies use when making roof trusses,” he said. “They normally stock all sorts of sizes and lengths.” I thanked him for the lead and called our lumber representative back up and asked him to check with his roof truss company. He called back with an excited tone in his voice to tell me that we could get whatever select structural lumber that we needed and it could be delivered within a few days. I told him that we did not start construction yet and that I would let him know when we were getting close to starting the project.
Preparing to Meet the Building Inspector
Like many builders, I am busy during the day building, and busy early mornings and late evenings working on drawings, paperwork, and bidding other jobs (all of that, of course, before and after family time). I spent all of my time outside of building working on the building plans for the wellness center so that I could get them finished and ready to submit with the building permit application.
Toward the end of the drawing process, a thought popped into my head about setting up a time with the building inspector and going over the building permit application and the building plans with him. Normally, builders are required to drop off the building permit application and building plans at the township office and then we have to wait for at least a week until we hear if we got the building permit or not. With every line that I darkened on the building plans, my excitement grew to get the building permit.
I left a message for the Building Inspector: “This is Adam, the builder working on the horse barn that will be turned into a Wellness Center. I would like to set up a time to meet in person so that we can go over the building permit application and building plans.” I provided the address and township also so that the building inspector knew who I was and what I was talking about.
Later that day, the building inspector called me back and we set up a time to meet the following Tuesday when he was at the township hall. Thankfully we were meeting outside of his normal hours, so that there were no distractions and he could focus on this one project. By setting the appointment with the building inspector, I was setting my expectations high that I could work full-time on a building project during the day and then go home to draw in the evenings. After many long nights, I finished the building plans and sent them to the printer to be printed.
This entire time throughout the drawing process and discussions with the building inspector and structural engineer, I updated the owners and let them know where we were in the process. I notified the owners that I was meeting with the building inspector on that upcoming Tuesday and I intended on leaving there with the building permit.
The dream of turning the horse barn into their Wellness Center was finally going to come true. I picked up the drawings from the printer and looked over the building permit application one more time to make sure that I had not overlooked anything.
Willing Ones and Naysayers
Tuesday arrived and I was motivated to get to the township hall and get the building permit. While I was driving to the township hall, I was thinking about every detail that I drew on the building plan. I felt very confident that there was nothing about the Wellness Center build that concerned me, except some of the subcontractors who would be working on the project. In the 17 years that I have owned my building business and worked on out of the box projects, I have learned that there are two kinds of people who come out to check out or work on our projects: the Willing Ones and the Naysayers.
The Willing Ones are always willing to work on projects that are out of the box, because they love a challenge and seem to like to work on projects that are unlike others. The Willing Ones are such a breath of fresh air to me and are people who will make me feel good for taking an out of the box project. I do my best when I am surrounded by positive people and the Willing Ones are always so positive.
The Willing Ones are not always my first choice to hire, though, because willingness doesn’t always mean that they have the skill set to do what I am asking them to do. Having people around me that always agree with me is not always good for the team — at least that is what I have discovered over the years.
The Naysayers can be a real drag on my excitement. The Naysayers will say things to try to derail the projects, things like, “You should have just tore this barn down” or, “Why would anyone want to turn an old stinky barn into a Wellness Center? If it were me, I would have stayed in town.”
The Naysayer, for whatever reason, will say something negative no matter how much excitement or passion I have in my voice. Although the Naysayer is a person who grinds my gears, I don’t always rule them out as a hire because the Naysayer may have worked on out-of-the-box projects before and has a skill set that is very useful. Having an antagonist like a Naysayer can sometimes coax out the best in me versus the warm and fuzzy feeling I get with the Willing Ones, because I feel challenged to investigate every possible solution and outcome.
I wasn’t sure who I would hire yet on the project but I was very sure that I had driven past the entrance to the township hall as my mind came back to reality. I turned around and headed back to the township hall.
“There sure are a lot of vehicles here for a Tuesday,” I thought as I found a place to park. I walked into the township hall and immediately saw several people sitting in the waiting area again. I walked up to the receptionist to see what was going on and she said that I could go right in, that the building inspector was waiting for me.
“Come in”, the building inspector said as I walk up to his door. I took a deep breath and went into his office.
Follow the full series as the saga of the horse barn to wellness center transformation unfolds.
Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project Michigan. Adam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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