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New building official takes unconventional path to job

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on October 26, 2017 12:01AM

Last changed on October 26, 2017 9:20PM

Pendleton building inspector Ty Woolsey fills out paperwork at a job site on Terrace Drive on Wednesday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pendleton building inspector Ty Woolsey fills out paperwork at a job site on Terrace Drive on Wednesday in Pendleton.

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Pendleton building inspector Ty Woolsey, right, listens to journeyman plumber Ryaen Driscoll talk about a project off of Tutuilla Creek Road on Wednesday in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pendleton building inspector Ty Woolsey, right, listens to journeyman plumber Ryaen Driscoll talk about a project off of Tutuilla Creek Road on Wednesday in Pendleton.

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Ty Woolsey has spent only the past few years pursuing a career in building inspection, having already exhausted attempts at being a rodeo cowboy, diesel mechanic and construction worker. But those years have been good to Woolsey, who has risen to become the city of Pendleton’s top building official.

It’s Woolsey’s job to interpret the thousands of pages of building codes and laws and explain them to the contractors and citizens who are trying to produce something on schedule and on budget. Every new structure built has to go through him before it is fully built and occupied.

A unique set of circumstances put Woolsey in an important role in the city’s community development department, but the city is having trouble adding to his ranks.


Woolsey grew up on a farm in Tumalo, a small town seven miles north of Bend. His family had deep roots in the construction industry, his grandfather a contractor and his father, Chuck Woolsey, an assistant building official for Deschutes County.

The younger Woolsey spent his breaks helping his grandfather with construction projects, but one of his first loves was rodeo.

He competed at the amateur level and even steer wrestled at the Round-Up once, he said, but repeated injuries took their toll, and once he became a father at 25, he decided to retire from the sport.

Woolsey got a degree in diesel mechanics from Central Oregon Community College in 2003, but by the time he finished the program he wasn’t interested in that line of work anymore.

In 2009, he moved to Boise and took a job with a construction firm that contracted with federal agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife for large scale projects.

As a foreman and equipment manager, Woolsey crisscrossed the country while he worked on fisheries, armories and water treatment plants. But all the travel required for the job meant a lot of time spent away from his young family.

“When I came home, my kids didn’t look the same,” he said.

Coupled with his late mother’s cancer diagnosis and his father being involved in a car accident, Woolsey returned to Oregon in 2013.

By that time, Chuck Woolsey had become the Hermiston building official and relocated to Stanfield, weary of Bend’s growth into a large metro area. Upon his son’s return, Chuck Woolsey advised his son to become a building inspector, utilizing the skills he learned in the construction trade.

Woolsey began volunteering with Pendleton in 2014, using it as a building official apprenticeship. Immersing himself in Oregon’s building codes, he said he would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and begin studying when a question struck.

Woolsey didn’t stay a volunteer for long. Less than a half year after starting with the city, he was promoted to a part-time building inspector and was bumped up to full-time shortly after that. Woolsey was promoted to interim building official in November 2016 and in July, his job was made permanent.


Having worked both sides of the counter, Woolsey, now 33, thinks one of his best skills is communicating the building code in a way that contractors and laymen can understand.

Whatever needed to be said didn’t take long during a round of inspections in Pendleton on Wednesday, with each visit taking no longer than five or 10 minutes.

Woolsey drove his truck to a manufactured home construction site on Houtama Road, checking for factors like setback size and if the ground level would be conducive to draining as a construction crew worked on the foundation. Unless a significant issue arises, Woolsey said he doesn’t write down his observations, preferring to tell the supervisor or contractor in person. He will have to run inspections about a half-dozen times before the project is complete, double for stick-built homes.

Woolsey crossed Southgate for his next inspection at a home on Tutuilla Road, where contractors from Round-Up City Plumbing are connecting the resident to the city’s sewer system. Woolsey checks for the depth of the sewer lines and if it has locate wires, briefly chats with one of the workers, then departs. Woolsey remarked that there isn’t much to note on projects done by professionals.

“They know what’s up,” he said.

Woolsey’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. During an Oct. 10 workshop, the Pendleton City Council told Woolsey that they were hearing good things from the community and less complaints than they used to.

In an interview Thursday, Councilor Neil Brown said a “previous regime” in the building department led by John Lindstrom could be difficult to work with. Besides being a city councilor, Brown is a former licensed contractor who owns rental properties.

A self-described “stickler” for doing things by the books, Brown said the old building department would act “tired and grumpy” when inspecting projects he was involved with. Brown recalled a conversation with a foreman on the Pendleton Heights housing development who told him that the building department had gotten on his case for the placement of electrical outlets.

“It’s the inconsistencies that really hurt,” he said.

Brown said he wasn’t trying to “roast” anyone specifically with his comments.

Lindstrom was placed on leave last November without public explanation from the city and resigned shortly thereafter.

When asked if the building department’s previous reputation was earned, Woolsey was diplomatic, saying there’s “two sides to every story.”

Brown said he hasn’t heard the same complaints about the building department recently and has actually heard positive comments from the community. But he said Woolsey has “a big, big job,” which is further compounded by the fact that the city has a contract with Wallowa County to provide inspection services.

While Woolsey started receiving part-time help from a retired building official who lives in Wallowa County, he’s been trying to find another full-time building inspector to fill his department for the past month.

Woolsey said he’s received an application from one qualified applicant during that time, a trend common in the building inspection trade. He said 85 percent of building inspectors will migrate out of the profession within the next five years, according to the International Code Council.

Woolsey said he encourages contractors to get their certifications to become a building inspector, but the requirements to become certified don’t mesh well with a work schedule.


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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