Date: Fri 09-Jan-1998
Brinley Will Step Down As Building Inspector
BY ANDREW GOROSKO
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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.