Reade Milne is Edgartown’s building commissioner

Milne is the first woman to hold that title, inheriting the mantle from longtime commissioner Lenny Jason.

Reade Milne is experienced in the building trade, having built her own house, and is now the Edgartown building commissioner.

She’s built many homes — including her own — and now she’s helping others do the same.

Reade Milne is heading Edgartown’s building department as the newly minted building commissioner, inheriting the mantle from longtime commissioner and mentor Lenny Jason. She was appointed on Dec. 13, and is the first woman to be in that role for the town.

Building is in Milne’s blood. Her father, Geoff Kontje, has been an Island builder for several decades. She was born and raised on the Island, splitting time between Chappaquiddick and Vineyard Haven. A Tisbury School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School alum, Milne also briefly attended Sant Bani, a small, now nonexistent private school in Edgartown.

After finishing high school, Milne spent some time at college in Vermont, but quickly found out she wasn’t happy. Feeling homesick, Milne headed back home and began working for her father in construction. 

Growing up, Milne said, she never showed a keen interest in carpentry, but did have a fondness for architecture, designing houses when she was 12 years old.

“I loved the design of it all. It was so interesting to me. Spaces feel so different. You can go into one space and it feels really warm and comforting,” she said.

Milne started working with her father in 1998. In the beginning, her knowledge was minimal, but over time, Kontje gave Milne more and more jobs, all while teaching her wall layout, stair building, rafter construction, and other tricks of the trade. The building bug quickly set in.

“He was always pushing me to broaden my knowledge in building, and I loved that,” Milne said. “I love building houses. It was probably my favorite job that I ever had.”

On many jobs, Milne was the only woman. Aside from the occasional ignorant comment, Milne has always been supported in her love of building, especially now by her kids.

“The biggest area where being a woman in this career, where I notice it and feel my pride, is conversations with my daughter, her friends, and especially with girls, but also with my son, where it’s just something they see as, Mom used to be a carpenter and now she’s a building inspector,” Milne said.

After working with her father and learning the building trade, Milne began what would become three and a half cumulative years at the Boston Architectural College. 

For several years, Milne had been looking for land on the Vineyard to build a home. One month into her first semester back at school, and right before her birthday, Milne got the call that she was awarded land in Vineyard Haven through the youth lot program. The timing worked out great, because Milne was able to use designing her house as the basis for many of her projects in class.

For her first year in school, she designed her future home, then took a year off from school to build it. During the day she would work with her dad, then headed to her lot in the evening. She got plenty of help from her dad, her siblings, Island friends, and a friendly classmate named Greg Milne. 

“My now husband was the one classmate who came down to help. I invited a bunch of people, and he was the one who decided to come down, and now we’re married,” she said.

The home was built with materials from near and far. Milne’s brick fireplace, for example, was made with beach bricks collected by herself, friends, and family members. She also wanted the place to look like a farmhouse that had been added on to, so she added lots of windows.

“It was such a party to build it. I was so excited to do it, and I loved that my friends would come over and join in these things,” Milne said. “Community has always been so important to me. The community of the Vineyard, of my small community, my family community. It is really everything to me.”

Milne’s jobs have shifted over the years, but they’ve always centered around building. She bounced back and forth between carpentry and architecture.

After having her two kids, Milne left construction to work for Bruce MacNelly at MacNelly Cohen Architects. While she enjoyed working with MacNelly, she learned that she missed being out in the field.

Milne’s interest in shifting her career again came when she was working as a general contractor for a project at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury. A position for a local inspector opened up in the West Tisbury building department. Milne played with the idea, because it seemed to check off all the things she loved about construction, and she would get to have a hand in design, be out in the field, and be around lots of rules.

“I love rules,” Milne said while laughing. “I love being able to open a book and have the answer there.”

It was around this time that longtime Edgartown building commissioner Lenny Jason reached out to Milne to see if she was interested in joining the Edgartown building department. She decided to start spending time with Jason every week, learning about the permitting process and the department.

Calling it a “slow evolution,” Milne began spending more time in the building department office, and became the deputy inspector, which allowed her to continue expanding her knowledge and go on inspections. Her father encouraged her to shadow Jason, which she did for a year before being hired by the town. In September 2017, Milne applied for and got the job of assistant building inspector. 

Milne has high praise for Jason, calling him “super-supportive” throughout the entire process.

“He’s so trusted in that town,” she said. “People know that they can go to him for advice and for solid understanding of what to do.”

Realizing she enjoyed the building department, Milne began her local inspector testing first before moving on to building commissioner certification. The testing is rigorous, having future commissioners learn about fire protection codes, legal aspect tests, building codes and standards, and much more.

Milne is required to complete 45 hours of continuing education, which can be spread out over a three-year period.

“There is so much information to know about, and it is changing pretty frequently,” she said,. “especially now, in the beginning of my career. I’m so happy to go to any classes … It’s such an opportunity to constantly be keeping yourself sharp and keeping yourself at the top of your game.”

Milne’s favorite house on the Island is of course her own, but she has a fondness for the older homes on the Island. One of the hardest parts of Milne’s job is watching older summer camp houses — not only in Edgartown, but across the Island — get demolished and replaced with larger, modern houses. She keeps a photo folder on her phone of old homes that face demolition or alteration. 

“They’re really special, they’re not perfect, and they’re super-quirky, and it speaks to what that time was,” she said.

Milne is a member of the Tisbury School building committee, and is a temporary building commissioner in Tisbury. Both her children, Greta and Felix, attend the Tisbury School. She also loves to knit.

“I’m a really selfish knitter,” she said with a laugh. “I do pull myself away and make things for other people sometimes.”

With her new job, Milne joins what she considers a group of what she calls the town’s caretakers: the building department, zoning board of appeals, the planning board, the conservation commission, and others.

“To me, a building inspector is there offering a service to the community,” Milne said. “It really does go back to the community for me. The building inspector’s office is a resource.”