BPI founder Charles Clawson receives ICC’s 2020 Educator of the Year Award
Early on in his 50-plus year career, Charles Clawson could see there was a big problem at the foundation of safe construction in the city of Arlington, Texas. “It was pretty clear the inspectors had little knowledge of the building codes,” Clawson said. “And if they didn’t know, how were they going to explain it to the contractors and others?”
Clawson helped set up weekly seminars in his department, where experts in the field would go through the basics of the codes. “They even had to pass a quiz at the end to show they were paying attention,” said Clawson chuckling.
That program may have been the genesis for Clawson helping to establish the Building Professional Institute (BPI) in 1991 in North Texas, a program that has enriched the careers of thousands of code officials and other stakeholders ever since.
For his work with BPI, an ICC Preferred Provider, Clawson will receive the 2020 Educator of the Year Award from the International Code Council. This award is given to an individual or organization upon recommendation by the Education Committee for excellence in education and promoting professional development among Code Council members. This award is given in honor of Brent Snyder for his contributions to Code Council members to further their educational pursuits and professional development.
Clawson said he was humbled when receiving the news about the award, insisting there were many people – including those in the Building Officials Association of Texas (BOAT) and the ICC’s North Texas Chapter – who kept BPI not only going, but flourishing.
Originally established at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1992, BPI conducts four annual regional events that offer quality education and training for building professionals, including building officials, municipal inspectors, real estate inspectors, architects, engineers, builders, plumbers, fire protection personnel, code enforcement, permit technicians, contractors, electricians, and environmental health and safety personnel. Coursework done through these training events earn valuable continuing education units (CEUs) to help attendees maintain necessary professional certifications.
Clawson remembered BOAT officials approached him in the early 1990s about starting a code education program. As the building official for the city of Arlington at that time, he could see there was the same need for code education as he experienced 20 years earlier.
“There was a vacuum in code education in our area,” he said. “Cities like Arlington, Plano and others that are large now, were a lot smaller then. And it was clear they didn’t have the access to code training. They knew just enough to get along.”
So, Clawson got with Dr. John Matthys, a professor with the Construction Research Center at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), for his expertise, while BOAT formed a BPI committee to help manage and plan BPIs. Clawson and Matthys along with BOAT decided to create a partnership with the Construction Research Center of UTA to house the classes.
The first BPI program was held over several days in 1992 in Arlington with about 125 attendees. News spread about this new educational opportunity and more classes and attendees followed. Every year since then, BPI has grown. Soon afterward, other BPIs were created for Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and Austin.
Clawson said the classes or tracks, which have grown to more than a dozen daily with some 90 instructors now, originally focused on the core code subjects: building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical.
“BPI has become recognized as one of the top four training events for building code professionals in the United States,” said Tim Ryan, chief executive officer for the International Association of Building Officials, in his nomination letter for Clawson. “BPI has worked very closely with the Code Council’s Learning Center to provide quality instruction to code administrators, plans examiners, building Inspectors, fire inspectors, fire marshals, permit technicians and all the trade-oriented disciplines of plan review and inspections. The training he has provided has also included architects, engineers, contractors, etc., so that they have an equal understanding of the model codes adopted jurisdictions throughout the State of Texas.”
BOAT President Jeffrey Widmer, CBO, noted in his nominating letter that BPI “has expanded beyond municipal inspectors, architects and engineers by providing educational programs and continuing education for a host of different building professionals such as, code enforcement officers, planners, public works and fire officials, just to name a few. As a rough estimate, these educational opportunities have provided training to close to 40,000 building professionals here in the State of Texas.”
Three years ago, the Code Council partnered with BPI to advance training for building professionals in Texas. Under the new agreement, the Code Council would manage the registration, administration and outreach for training while BPI will focus on the curriculum to better serve the needs of building professionals in Texas.
“BPI is excited about the opportunity to partner with ICC on one of the key elements of our educational program,” Clawson said at the time. “This partnership will reduce our administrative responsibility and allow BPI to concentrate on our long-standing tradition of quality education.”
The new agreement allowed BPI to leverage the Code Council’s expertise and resources to elevate its own exceptional training services. Under the partnership, the Code Council began supplying registration and outreach services for BPI’s October 2017 Central Texas event that August. BOAT officials said in a newsletter to members they were pleased with the results. “From all indications and feedback thus far, it was well-received with classes and certification testing offered during the educational week. The BOAT-ICC affiliation has the potential for expanding our BPI on a national scale. This relates to our need for a newer, larger facility.”
After 30-plus years, Clawson retired from the city of Arlington as development services director, but still remains active with BPI, BOAT and the Code Council’s North Texas Chapter. Sometimes, he’s amazed at how much the seminars have grown. “Early on, my feet didn’t start hurting until the last day of the seminar,” he said. “But 15 years or so in, they started hurting after the first day. It has been so wonderful meeting so many different people, shaking their hand and talking with them. Like everyone else, we’ve had to adjust with online programs and classes due to the pandemic. Still, we have a lot of people signed up for our November program, maybe even more than usual.”
Regardless of how the message is shared, Clawson said the mission still is the same as when BPI began. “Education is what we should be doing as an organization,” he said. “When you take the effort to teach people, it causes them to study. To buy the books, to go through them. Maybe for the first time. They need this education to do their jobs well each day.”