When he was a kid, longtime Eden Prairie building official Kevin Schmieg dreamed of a career managing construction projects.
The Waconia native would tag along with his father, a finance controller for a large construction company, to project sites in the Twin Cities.
“I would go to these jobs and be amazed,” he recalled. “I always had an interest in building. But I think it lit a fire (in him). That’s when I decided what I want to be.”
Reflecting on his career a few days before retiring, Schmieg said he ended up with a “bigger score” than he could have ever imagined all those years ago.
After 38 years and nine months working for the city, primarily as its building official and manager of inspections, Schmieg’s last day on the job was March 25.
“It’s been a good ride,” he said. “It’s all that I could have hoped for.”
Schmieg admits that working for a municipality was not his first choice coming out of the University of Minnesota with a civil engineering degree in 1982.
But, he said it provided him with the challenges and aspirations he had been looking for in a career.
“You get to see that you have a say in many projects,” he said. “And, what I ultimately really wanted was to have a say in projects.”
Along the way, during Schmieg’s career, Eden Prairie transformed from farm fields into the booming suburb it is today.
“I literally, albeit in a small role, got to help build a city,” he said. “Who gets to do that? It’s an amazing thing and a knock on wood, we’ve never had a fire death in Eden Prairie that was attributable to a fire in a home. We’ve had some deaths that were automobile related in homes but not in the fire deaths. So we’ve done so much good.”
Schmieg offers a sense of how much has happened since being hired as a plan reviewer in July 1983.
According to his calculations, 75 percent of the city’s housing, including rentals, was built. More than 257,000 permits were issued, and 412,000 inspections completed.
“Literally, (the city) was 25% of what it was (before he was hired),” he said. “It’s an exciting, exciting thing to be a part of. It’s a small part. But, maybe hopefully, people sleep better at night because of our work with code enforcement.”
How it began
Fresh out of college, Schmieg remembers it wasn’t a great time for finding engineering jobs.
“Interest rates were 17%,” he recalled. “There were no jobs for engineers. And I saw a job opening in the Chaska paper for a plan reviewer in Eden Prairie.”
A contractor he knew urged him to apply.
“I was working at a bait shop,” he said. “Instead of dipping minnows, he said it would look better on your resume if you worked for a city.”
At first, Schmieg admits he didn’t think he would be there long.
“I figured I’d ride this out until the economy got better and I was going to break out and go into private (work),” he said. “It was never a primary thing to work for a city. I never even thought of it, to be honest. It was just an opportunity I saw in a paper one day. But, that’s how many careers start.”
Schmieg eventually moved into his current role in 1986.
The city’s building inspections division ensures buildings are constructed safely and comply with state and local building and fire codes.
As Schmieg describes it, code enforcement “keeps things standardized so people won’t trip and fall on stairs and don’t burn up in their house, make sure fireplaces are constructed right.”
Nobody appreciates the work as long as everything is going well. “It’s when it goes bad that everybody has concerns,” he said. “We’ve had just an unbelievable run. We have made the city safer.”
Describing himself as an outdoorsman, Schmieg plans to spend much of his first year of retirement hunting and fishing.
“After that, I’ll settle in,” said Schmieg, who still lives in Waconia. “I probably will do some consulting. I have a couple different ideas.”
Schmieg will miss the job, but it was time to move on and give other people opportunities. Stephen Kartak, who worked for the City of Edina, replaced him.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a day that I didn’t like what I was doing,” he said. “I really mean that. Globally, I think that there has never been a day that I said, I don’t want to do this anymore. And I think you’d ask both the inspectors and plan reviewers and clerical staff; they would say that same thing.”
He said city management, residents and the City Council were all very supportive of what code enforcement was doing.
“All you can hope for with a career is that you made a difference,” he said. “And I think we did.”
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