It took a while to get things moving but a carpenter's union training facility will be operational in the Eagle Commercial Park around September.
In January 2011, Eagle Town Board members approved a special use permit for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Union to convert the former Kemp Building, which has been vacant since its construction in 2008.
"It took them a while to get all their committee approvals together before they pulled a building permit but once that happened, things have been happening fast," said Bob Kohrmann, a building official with the town of Eagle. "They've been good to work with."
This branch of the carpenter's union is based in Los Angeles and has training centers in six southwestern states. Currently, the closest one is in Denver.
The Kemp Building was basically an unfinished shell. About a quarter of the space will be used for offices, bathrooms, a classroom and a lobby, Kohrmann said. The bulk of its space - more than 7,000 square feet - will be used as shop space for building and deconstructing whatever a class is learning about. Improvements to the landscape and parking lot are also being made.
"It's going to serve a pretty large area," Kohrmann said.
That "large area" is the Western Slope and parts of Utah and Wyoming.
The facility will be a little bit like a trade school.
Justin Weidner, the SW Council's chief of staff, explained how the facility will serve someone with zero experience who wants to become a carpenter.
"First, the person needs to find a signatory contractor from our list of union employers members to indenture him or her," Weidner said.
It's basically a formal agreement with a contractor to take the student under his or her wing.
The student then takes the contract to the local union office along with a membership fee for the union. Soon he or she will get a letter detailing impending classes at the training center. At this point, the prospective student is a "first-period apprentice."
"Generally speaking, you must work 600 hours to move up to the next period," Weidner said. "In most of our programs, there are eight periods to become a journeyman and it takes about four years to complete them if there is enough work available."
The time at the training center is not paid, but the apprentice's work will be paid according to the union's scale for skill levels. A first-period apprentice makes about 60 percent of a journeyman's wage in the area.
"In Colorado, a journeyman's wage is about $23 an hour plus benefits. Carpenter wages haven't kept pace, which is incredibly low right now," Weidner said. "That is due to the tough economy but also partly because of a low union presence (in Eagle County)."
The initial trainings focus largely on safety.
"We don't want them getting hurt," Weidner said. "A first-period apprentice will be doing a lot of errands and clean-up until they know enough to get more involved with the building."
Classes offered at Eagle's facility will include welding, concrete forms, interior systems, framing, solid surfacing, door hardware, forklift operation, scaffold erection, blueprint reading and layout in addition to a number of health and safety classes, including first-aid/CPR, haz-mat, lead abatement and others.
"We may not have a particular class in every place at one time," Weidner said. "We have instructors who travel around."
To learn more about the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, visit www.swcarpenters.org.
"It's an opportunity to earn and learn," Weidner said.