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Ready to hit the open road

Retiring county building official Lou Haehnlen was key in developing code for data center construction

Photo Credit: JASON CHANEY - Crook County Building Official Lou Haehnlen inspects the footings on a remodel project at Advanced Cabinetry. Haehnlen is retiring at the end of next month and plans to travel the country with his wife in their newly-purchased motor home.

Back in 2009, Lou Haehnlen got his first taste of the retired life.

At that time the Crook County building official agreed to retire a year early, after Scott Cooper, county judge at that time, requested his departure to weather the economic crash.

The move proved temporary. By 2012, his replacement was planning to move on and Haehnlen was asked if he wanted to return.

“Not really,” he answered, initially. Although he had kept busy helping the county with projects, including the construction of a new homeless shelter, he was enjoying the retired life. “But, if they need me,” he added, “I’ll be more than happy to come back and work until they get somebody,”

Haehnlen signed a nine-month contract with the county and resumed his role as building official. Plans changed along the way as nine months turned into two years.

“I said, ‘All right guys, what do you want me to do?’” Haehnlen said, recalling a conversation he had with county leaders when his nine months were up. Crook County Judge Mike McCabe, in response, revealed how badly they wanted to keep him on board.

“He points at me and says, ‘You’re the building official until you die,’” Haehnlen said, his smile revealing the facetious nature of the comment. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”

In the end, he decided to stick around a little longer.

Finally, after a more than 35-year career in construction, which includes his two-part stint in Crook County that began in 2003, Haehnlen will retire – and hit the road to make sure it sticks.

“On my letter of resignation, I said my last day of work will be Sept. 30 and I am leaving town, so don’t call me, I’ll call you – just as a joke.”

Haehnlen will leave the county with 11 state certifications and a wealth of construction knowledge that served local officials well as the community became the widely-known home of the Facebook and Apple data centers.

“The process for development of the data centers was pretty complicated,” said Phil Stenbeck, who worked with Haehnlen as the county’s assistant planning director. “As part of the development process, he had the ability to help understand what the uniformed building code required and then filled in the gaps at the time and made things work.”

County Planning Director Bill Zelenka said Haehnlen possessed the experience to review the building plan, which included complex electrical, plumbing, and site preparation work.

“He established a rapport with the general contractors and worked out arrangements,” Zelenka said.

Haehnlen noted that there was nothing in the building code books at the time that even related to data centers, so he helped make it up along the way. Now, if another data center should choose Prineville, the building department will be prepared.

“In a sense, he was kind of a pioneer,” Stenbeck said.

The building official also played a critical role in the creation of a community development department. Historically, the county had operated separate building, planning, and environmental health departments. Haehnlen felt, because the three departments were so woven into the building process, it made sense to combine them into one and work together on future projects.

“They really worked together and Lou saw the value of that and was really pushing and helpful to make sure that we had that integrated and that everyone kind of cross-trained ... so they understood the whole picture,” Zelenka said.

With retirement nearing, Haehnlen has sold his home – it was on the market just two days – and he purchased a large motor home that he and his wife will use to travel the country. He will go to Arizona first, to enjoy a warm winter, then venture out the following summer.

“There are a lot of things we need to do that we haven’t been able to do – haven’t had enough time,” he said.

Leaving also provides Haehnlen a little extra assurance that he will stay retired this time.

“I’m going to miss the job terribly,” he said, “because I just love it. But I’m 70 years old. That’s why I’m going to get out of town.”

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