Schuchman hits 10-year mark keeping building on track in Fenwick

For anyone in Fenwick Island who wants to know about construction, building permits, contractor licenses, zoning, code enforcement or flood hazard or flood protection, she’s the lady you call. Pat Schuchman has worked for the Town of Fenwick Island for the past 10 years — and the last eight in building and code enforcement.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming Pat Schuchman in her Fenwick Island office. Schuchman has been enforcing building and code enforcment in Fenwick for 8 years, and been with the town for 10 years.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
Pat Schuchman in her Fenwick Island office. Schuchman has been enforcing building and code enforcment in Fenwick for 8 years, and been with the town for 10 years.

Building and code enforcement, and the jargon that accompanies it, was not exactly foreign to her when she took the position of enforcing town code and dealing with building permit requests. Schuchman and her husband, a retired Baltimore City firefighter, moved to the area 14 years ago. In Baltimore, she had worked for Westinghouse Electric for 17 years, as an assistant to the packaging engineer, and it was there that she first learned how to read codes.

“When I first started here I worked for Barb Hanrahan, town administrator, as a secretary,” offered Schuchman. “She handed me the code book and said, ‘You need to learn this.’ So I did. The position I am in now was offered to me because I knew the codes.”

One of the many hats that she wears for the town is CRS coordinator. According to FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. Its goals are to reduce flood losses; facilitate accurate insurance rating and promote the awareness of flood insurance.

“When I started we were a Class 9. At that class, property owners get a 5 percent discount on flood insurance. And the ratings are coming up again this year and now we are a Class 8, so they will get a 10 percent discount. And I’m pretty proud of that,” she shared.

“Part of my job in letting the public know is sending out the newsletter. We give information on flood insurance out to property owners and encourage them to buy it, we keep the public informed of the flood requirements, and we keep an elevation certificate on hand. All newer homes have it and we offer it to the new buyer.”

On a typical day, Schuchman can be found riding around town, making sure that people have building permits — both for Sussex County and the town — as well as making sure the contractors are licensed and that things on various projects are in general good order. She can also be found fielding calls from contractors and homeowners.

“Just yesterday, I had contractors in all day — either getting permits, or approval or asking specifics on their projects,” she said.

Contrary to the suggestion of a continuation in a slow real estate and construction market throughout the area, Schuchman said that this year has actually picked up from last year.

“Usually we average about 20 homes a year. Last year (August 2006 to July 2007) we only issued four new-construction permits for the whole year. Since August (2007), we have had 10 already. I was very surprised,” she said.

In addition to being in charge of building codes and enforcement, coordinating CRS, and issuing permits and licensing, Schuchman sits on the town’s Charter and Ordinance Committee, which reviews suggestions for changes to the town’s ordinances, whether it be in zoning or other amendments to the town charter “to ensure that any changes made offer a level of protection for the people.” She also sits on the Commercial Liaison Committee, a committee comprising local business owners.

“I have always worked well the business owners and have had a rapport with them,” Schuchman said “They have different needs.”

She also is a member of the Lower Delaware/Maryland Building Officials Association, and she takes much pride in the scholarship work that she has done with them.

“We give out scholarships. The first year, we gave it out to a Delaware Tech student and for the second year we decided to do it on a high school level. We had two very good choices — twin brothers,” she recalled. “They were very talented with their hands. But they had such a bad home life they were living in a shelter. We awarded the one boy the $500 scholarship, and I convinced them to give the brother a $300 scholarship. It was a real pleasure to help those boys.”

Schuchman remarked on the fact that many of the things that she does as part of her job in the town of Fenwick Island just would not be done by her counterparts in big city, but it’s all a part of the service in the small coastal town.

“A lot of what we hear is ‘Can I fix this?’ or ‘Do this.’ Or ‘My neighbor’s grass is too high. What are you going to do about it?’” she said.

“But the things we do would never happen in Baltimore. We let the property owners know if a big storm is coming or call tell them if they have some loose shingles,” she noted. “In the winter, we check for busted pipes. We watch out for our people and their property.”

When asked what’s in store for her in the future, Schuchman laughed. “I hope 10 more years — at least!”