Ballard is set to retire Nov. 26 after 34 years with the city of Destin
From the Green Knight coming down at the corner of U.S. 98 and Main Street to the Emerald Grande going up at the foot of the Destin bridge, Larry Ballard has seen it all.
Ballard, who was the 19th employee hired by the city of Destin, will be retiring on Nov. 26 after 34 years of service in the city’s building department.
Ballard, a Pensacola native, was part of the first graduating class of Escambia High School. He served in the US Army reserves for six years, received his BS degree in 1968 from Livingston University which today is the University of West Alabama. Ballard went on to get a master’s from Troy State University in 1975 in Counseling and Guidance, and began with the City of Destin in August of 1987, with the Building Department.
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Ballard has seen a lot of changes over the years.
In the early days when the city was only a couple of years old, “We would permit a single-family house and a file would have three pieces of paper in it, today if everything goes smooth you wouldn’t have but 30 to 40 pieces of paper,” he said.
“We had a used Crown Vic from the sheriff’s department,” he said that they drove.
“We used two-way radios … we didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t have computers,” Ballard said.
“And we didn’t need a fax machine because we could use the banks for nothing,” he smiled.
“It was simpler times … we were all family,” Ballard said.
“Today, we’re a little bit larger … don’t really know everybody,” he said.
The city of Destin has about 100 employees.
“There wasn’t much here when I started,” Ballard said.
“I could have bought a lot and a concrete block house in Crystal Beach for $30,000, but who would want to live out there,” he said. Today Crystal Beach is full of high-dollar homes.
When Ballard started with the city, city hall was located on U.S. 98 where Coyote Ugly is now located.
“When I was hired, nobody in the three counties had been offered any training,” he said about building codes.
After reading and researching the Southern Building Code book, they soon got training.
“We had 12 weeks of training every year,” Ballard said. “Every month, one person from the building division was in Birmingham taking a week course on the code.
“We fast became the leader of the pack,” Ballard said.
Ballard explained the building department sells information.
“We’re selling knowledge. We’re here to help the contractors meet the minimum standards of the state. And if they do that, they don’t get sued. We’re not here to tell them a better way to do it, but to enforce the minimum standard for the state,” he said.
“We’re hired by local authority to enforce state law,” Ballard said.
During his tenure with the city, the now 78-year-old Ballard has received all 11 standard licenses in inspections, plan review and building code administrator, CBO from the State of Florida. In September of 1995, he received the Chief Building Code Analyst license from the Southern Building Code Congress.
In 2004 he received the 1st Master Code Professional license in the Panhandle through the International Code Congress and served on the ICC Evaluations Service Committee for two terms. This committee approved products to be listed by the Code Congress.
“I chose to take all the tests and get all the licenses,” Ballard said.
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“So, I have all 11 standard licenses … which is not easy to get,” he said, noting he was up until around midnight or 1 a.m. studying, seven nights a week.
“I got a master’s degree in teaching school in one year. It took me 10 years to become a master code professional. It was hard work,” he said.
And codes have changed considerably over the years, he said, in the number of codes and details.
“There are 1,000 changes a year,” he said.
ON THE JOB
In his 34 years in the building department, the Emerald Grand at the foot of the bridge is probably the biggest project to come across his desk.
“The Emerald Grand was different. It was a very complicated project,” he said.
But his biggest challenge has been “keeping employees,” he said.
“I would train them and they would leave,” Ballard said, noting they could leave and make more money.
Ballard bragged on the contractors in the area.
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“We’ve got some good contractors, maybe some of the best in the world,” he said.
He recalled the days when a general contractor would put a nail apron on and frame the house and build it. Today they are office workers and hire framing crews and subcontract everything out.
But he says he’s liked working with them all, the contractors, architects and engineers. “I like it all,” he said.
What he hasn’t been crazy about is computers.
“I’m not a computer person,” Ballard said. “I like paper, I want to talk to people, I don’t want to send them a text,” he said, noting he was more “old school.”
At age 72, he could have retired, but he stayed on and hired Noell Bell, who is now the building official.
“I should have gone home then,” Ballard said.
“But it’s hard to leave family,” he said, noting he considers Bell, Susan Destin and others as family.
“I’ll miss all the old people,” he said.
When asked if he had any regrets, Ballard said emphatically, “Nope. I enjoy coming to work every day.
“The city has been good to me … I have no regrets,” he said.
As for plans for the future, he said he has nothing in “concrete” but he might take up fishing again.
“Don’t know … I’ve got house work and yard work and projects,” he said.
Ballard lives on the other side of Hurlburt near Navarre.