By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Nextel is staying sharp by rolling out two new applications that connect builders to building code officials and permit information, as well as offering its popular Direct Connect service nationally. The service, introduced about 10 years ago, lets builders use their Nextel phones like walkie-talkies.

The new applications stem from a joint venture with Chicago-based ConstructWorks. One is CityConnect, a specialized directory of contact information on local municipal building officials. Builders type in a city name or zip code on their Nextel handset, go through a few prompts, and the phone number of the local building inspector or department appears. Once a phone number pops up, the builder hits "Send," and a phone connection is made. The service costs $3.50 per month.

The second application is called PermitWorks. By dialing #444, users are connected to the ConstructWorks nationwide help desk, where permit experts put them in touch with local companies that specialize in pulling permits. The service costs $1.89 per minute.

Builders use Direct Connect for short conversations, such as confirming a subcontractor's location. They like Direct Connect because it's cheaper than paying for additional cell phone minutes and faster than playing phone tag.

Until recently, Direct Connect was only offered within a builder's metropolitan area. The new service, Nationwide Direct Connect, lets a builder in one city run a Direct Connect session with a builder in any other U.S. city. Nextel will phase in the service nationwide by the end of the third quarter.