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Building inspections not required where Thumper Pond was constructed

OTTERTAIL, Minn.—The collapsed roof for the water park of Thumper Pond Lodge here was built in one of the areas of Minnesota where inspections for enforcement of general structural and fire safety codes are not required, a state official said Thursday.

Only 22 of Minnesota's 87 counties, and its larger cities and towns, enforce the state's construction code, said Scott McLellan, director of construction codes and licensing for the state Department of Labor and Industry.

"You're required to comply with the code. However, that doesn't mean there's anyone enforcing it. That's a different matter," McLellan said.

Electrical, plumbing, elevator and handicap accessibility codes must be followed, but general structural and fire safety codes "are not enforced by any code official," he said.

Ottertail City Clerk Elaine Hanson said the city does not do building inspections. Otter Tail County also doesn't employ a county building inspector, an official said Thursday.

No one was injured in the roof collapse, but there's no word yet on what caused it to fail catastrophically just before midnight Tuesday.

McLellan would like to get the OK to have a state inspector look at the water park.

"It's very strange, even to the average citizen," he said. "There's no snow event, no high winds. Just to collapse. So obviously, we're very curious as to what caused that.

"Our business is providing safe buildings. If we can learn from that, that would be helpful."

Brad Stevens, general manager of Thumper Pond Lodge, didn't return multiple messages seeking comment on Wednesday or Thursday.

It's unknown if the builders employed a quality control inspector during construction, if a preliminary cause for the roof collapse has been determined and when or if the will be rebuilt.

Stevens did tell the Fergus Falls Daily Journal on Wednesday that it appears structural issues caused the collapse. WDAY-TV reported Thursday that the resort has partially reopened, but the investigation of the collapse could take weeks.

Most counties were given the option to opt out of administering the state building code in the late 1970s or early 1980s, McLellan said.

In areas without code enforcement, it's up to the owner of a property to decide what, if any, quality control will be used through building construction.

"They (the owners) could put that into the contract with the architect or the structural engineer that they want them to do some quality control in addition to just designing the building. Typically, that's not done," McLellan said.

"Otherwise, there is no governmental oversight of the actual nuts and bolts, the structural parts of the building, as it's going up," he said.

There are exceptions.

Any buildings that the state of Minnesota owns—such as those on the Capitol complex, wayside rests, and any licensed facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, supervised living or group homes—are required to be reviewed, plan-reviewed and inspected, McLellan said.

The state's labor and industry department doesn't have direct oversight authority for inspections.

This lodge and water park would have a license from the Department of Health as a lodging facility. The agency would review the pool, the sanitation, the rooms, and certain health codes would be enforced, McLellan said.

Similarly, the state fire marshal provides some inspections. But neither agency would do any sort of structural inspection, McLellan said. 

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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