As the Douglas County Building Codes Director, Tina Rakes describes her work as life safety.
She ensures that homes and businesses are built to be safe, sustainable and resilient structures that meet the International Code Council’s standards.
“I primarily help people who want to build something whether it’s commercial, residential or an addition,” she said. “My goal is to establish a working relationship and to help people accomplish their goals.”
She often starts by asking clients: “What’s your dream?” Then, they work together to see how much of that goal can be achieved when working within the code standards.
Rakes oversees the Douglas County Zoning and Codes Department with Zoning Director Tonya Voigt. They have seven staff members and an annual budget of about $445,000. They work in the unincorporated areas of Douglas County and have a contract to cover the City of Lecompton.
Rakes said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed building activity.
Between January 1 and August 18 of this year, 293 permits were issued for a total of $21 million and staff provided 1,580 inspections. Here’s how that compares for the same time period during the previous two years:
- 2018 – 312 permits for a total of $16.8 million; 1,162 inspections.
- 2019 – 304 permits for a total of $19.5 million; 1,182 inspections.
In 2019, 500 permits were issue for a total of $35.9 million, which was an increase from 463 permits for a total of $24.9 million in 2018. Inspections have also increased with staff providing 2,199 in 2019, compared to 1,929 in 2018.
There are three building inspectors, including Rakes. They provide inspections during various stages of the building process. To ensure safety, they look at a wide variety of items – everything from size of nails and height of windows to water management and smoke detector switches.
With more than 30 years of experience, Rakes knows what to look for by heart. She can easily rattle off required heights, widths and sizes of items. “When I walk up, I start scanning the area and my eye is trained to notice things. Overtime, you learn what to look for,” she said.
However, she said, building materials, layouts, construction methods and codes do evolve and she finds the changes fascinating. For example, she is seeing more solar panels and geothermal systems used for heating and cooling buildings. When she first started, the kitchens and living areas were separate and now people prefer an open area with no walls between them. “Continuing education is of upmost importance in this line of work,” she said.
Rakes grew up on a farm near Cimarron, a small town west of Dodge City. After high school, she worked with her aunt in a stained glass shop. Then, she worked at a large feedlot and was a truck driver for about a year. She also drove a route truck for Deli Express. Rakes fondly recalled visiting the Deli Express plant in Minnesota and creating a stained glass window of their logo for them. “I was young and just exploring,” she said.
For three years, she worked on a construction crew in Dodge City and did everything from pouring concrete to finishing the project. “I’ve always enjoyed hard work and working with my hands,” she said, adding that she got hooked on construction by helping her parents build their house.
She then worked for Dodge City’s Building Inspection Department. She said the director hired her as a building inspector based on her construction experience and drive. “He took a chance on me and I am forever grateful,” she said. After about four years on the job, she became director and worked there for a total of 17 years.
In 2004, she decided to apply for a similar position in Baldwin City to be closer to her daughter. Rakes got an interview and the job offer. “I had grown up and worked in the same area for my entire life. I worked in the same job for a long time and knew all of the resources, so it was a life-changing decision,” she said. “It also was the greatest decision I made career-wise because it provided me with opportunities to grow.”
Rakes worked in building, zoning and planning in Baldwin City until she was hired by Douglas County in May 2017.
For many years, Rakes served as president of the Heart of America Chapter of the International Code Council (ICC). She was able to network with people from around the world. She campaigned for and was successfully voted to serve on the ICC Board of Directors for two terms, which was a total of six years. “The opportunities that opened up for me were just phenomenal,” she said.
The ICC was established in 1994 with the goal of developing a single set of national model construction codes. Its mission it to provide the highest quality codes, standards, products and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment. Rakes said anyone can submit a code change that goes through the ICC and there can be about 1,500 code submittals each year. There are codes on everything from electric and mechanical to spa and pools. “It’s a very structured process that takes time,” she said. “Having served on the Board, I have an appreciation for the process. It’s a democratic process and it doesn’t mean we all agree, but we need to follow it.”
Rakes said there are people who will get frustrated and angry about codes, but it’s extremely important to follow them.
During her career, Rakes has served on disaster assessment teams and has seen countless homes and buildings that have been damaged by floods, tornadoes, hail and fire. In 2007, she helped with damage assessment in Greensburg after the town was destroyed by a tornado. She also helped create a Building Department and assisted with the adoption of building and zoning codes.
She had never experienced widespread destruction in the jurisdiction where she worked until May 28, 2019, when two tornadoes touched down in rural areas of Douglas County. The second, stronger tornado touched down near Lone Star Lake and moved in a northeastern direction across rural areas of Douglas County. It destroyed 13 homes, caused major damage to 28, minor damage to 42 and affected 11. It also caused damage to two commercial businesses and a home office.
Rakes and her staff worked to help residents recover and rebuild by easing the process and prioritizing those who were impacted. “The first thing is just being empathetic and mindful that they have been through something very traumatic and to let them know that we are here to help,” she said.
That’s what Rakes really enjoys about her job: the people factor. “I really enjoy helping people overcome difficulties and challenges and accomplish their dreams.”
** Story by Karrey Britt, Douglas County Communications Specialist