North Las Vegas’s female building official blazed a distinctive trail

Updated March 21, 2017 - 5:05 pm

Tom Lawrence, a building plans examiner for the city of North Las Vegas, said Valarie Evans is his wife’s hero.

“My wife always likes to see when women can achieve and get ahead,” said Lawrence, who has seen Evans’ hard work up close for nearly 15 years.

Evans, 50, is the city’s first female building official. She didn’t pick up the required skills from her father, who was a truck driver, or from her three brothers who went into the military.

She began her winding career as an electrician in her hometown of San Diego when she was 18, in the mid-1980s.

“There (weren’t) a lot of women on job sites and there (weren’t) a lot of women who were electricians on job sites,” Evans said. “It was so amazing to see women were coming into the trade and being in the male-dominated field.”

Shortly after moving to Las Vegas about 21 years ago, she decided to get certified to become a building inspector. She served in that role for the city of North Las Vegas for 11 years, and when she started, there were about 45 inspectors — six of whom were women. When the economic downturn hit the city, Evans said, the department decreased its entire staff to 11 people, including five inspectors and only two women. Cuts were based on seniority, and Evans got to stay.

Currently, the city has one female commercial inspector and one female plans examiner. This male-dominated demographic isn’t unique to North Las Vegas, but Evans said she’s seeing improvements.

Evans eventually became a plans examiner for the city, then was promoted to building official. Her responsibilities included overseeing whether structures and buildings were safe, legal and complying with laws.

She was the first female president for the Southern Nevada International Code Council, in 2013, and was named the organization’s Government Person of the Year in 2016.

Evans’ neatly organized office includes a photo of her daughter and 16-year-old granddaughter, Meya, on a shelf and a frame that reads, “You’re the friend everyone wishes they had.” But certifications and awards are the most prominent decorations.

She has gained 32 certifications from several organizations including the International Code Council and has taken hundreds of hours of tests. She’s also a master electrician and certified fire inspector.

“Valarie has definitely gone the extra mile,” said North Las Vegas Permit Application Center manager Tony Vibabul, adding, “Everything that comes up that she thinks she’s going to be responsible for in terms of decision-making, she’s gone out there and tried to get every certification that she possibly can so she can be a more effective leader.”

She’s known around the office as being helpful.

“She’s the best co-worker I’ve ever had,” structural plans examiner Edgar Surla said. “She’s always very assistive and helpful in order to sort out disputes.”

Evans said she doesn’t let gender stereotypes hold her back.

“I’ve been in a male-dominated field my whole life,” she said. “There was a time as a girl where you had to prove yourself … I think over time, you just gain respect for the job you do, not because of the gender. I’m seeing more women welders, electricians and managers. Those barriers in gender are being broken down.”

To reach North View reporter Kailyn Brown, call 702-387-5233 or email kbrown@viewnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @KailynHype.

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