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Operating Engineers 324 break ground on 17,000 square foot expansion to Construction Career Center

Apprentices, journeypersons and visitors alike will see a striking sight at the Operating Engineers 324 Construction Career Center in Howell starting this month – construction. The training facility, already one of the leading sites in the country, is undergoing an expansion that will more than double its number of classrooms and provide a number of new amenities to members.

The Center will be adding a new building consisting of almost 17,000 square feet of block and brick construction. This includes 6,600 square feet of new classroom space and a new simulator lab to accommodate the growing number of Heavy Equipment Simulators purchased by the training center including a CAT excavator, truck driving simulator, vortex crane simulator (with 3 different cranes: R/T module, tower module, and crawler module), and John Deere R/T backhoe.

The new building will also host a new 2,700 square foot lobby/kitchen/lunch room area, and another 1,200 square foot dedicated for a new locker room area. The building will sit adjacent to the current main building to the southwest, and will provide a striking view upon first entry to the lot in the form of a symbolic Exterior Steel Canopy designed to resemble the features of a Crane Jib.

The expansion is a multimillion-dollar investment from Operating Engineers 324 and their Joint Apprenticeship Training Fund (JATF). OE324 has a record number of apprentices, as well as thousands of journeymen and women who are constantly upgrading and adding to their skills. With high profile projects like the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, significant amounts of infrastructure spending coming from Lansing, and the need for new skilled apprentices greater than ever, the time for expansion is now.

Barton Malow was awarded the work after an exhaustive bidding process, and will be overseeing the project for its duration, which is expected to take 12-14 months to complete. The partnership between OE324 and Barton Malow has a long history, and the Construction Career Center expansion is a new chapter. “As a longtime partner to the Operating Engineers, Barton Malow is thrilled to be a part of this project. The renovations and additions to the facility will benefit the 324 staff and members, and ultimately benefit the work we do together through the highly trained and skilled individuals that emerge from the facility,” says Chuck Binkowski, Chief Operating Officer of Barton Malow.

The expansion will also include significant improvements to the existing building. There will be a complete remodel of both Men’s and Women’s Locker Rooms and Restrooms, as well as the removal of existing VCT floor tile and replacement with new Polished Concrete. The new configuration will allow for 10 additional classrooms, which will allow instructors to have more permanent set-ups of materials in the classroom.

“It will be great to not be bounced around from open classroom to open classroom, and to not have to juggle our props and materials,” says JATF Instructor Tim Butcher. “Better classrooms and better materials equal better learning, and more time we can spend focused on the training itself. It’s really exciting what we’ll be able to do.”

In addition to dedicated space, there will be significant upgrades inside the classrooms as well including smartboards. The impact for the record number of apprentices should be significant. “With the new space, we can do continuous rotations of classes,” says OE324 Apprenticeship Coordinator John Hartwell. “It allows us a lower student to teacher ratio, and that increases the amount of direct interaction an apprentice gets with both the instructor and the materials. It all adds up to a higher quality of apprentice.”

Improvements will continue to the outside of the facility as well. The project includes the complete removal and replacement of existing asphalt parking lot and roadway, as well as the addition of approximately 50 new parking spaces. The utilities and storm water management systems will be getting an upgrade as well.

“This expansion will allow us to grow and be as organized, proficient and professional as we can be,” says OE324 Training Director John Osika. “The open space, the expanded classrooms, the new areas for preparing, learning, and networking – these all help visitors, student and journeyperson alike, to be more comfortable and learn better. These all help the student, which in turn helps the union, the contractors and the trade.”

“It’s really an exciting time.”

Third year apprentice Mitch Miller agrees. “To me, the expansion means even more ability to train, at a bunch of different things. It’s good to know that this facility will be here for my future as a graduated apprentice, and I will have a place to go and continue upgrading and learning new skills.”

“Investment in ourselves and our training is always the smartest thing we can do,” says Operating Engineers 324 Business Manager Douglas W. Stockwell. “With this expansion and the opportunities it will provide to apprentices and journeypersons alike, we are doing just that – ensuring our skills remain the best in the world, and that we are ready to work on the projects, building, operating and maintaining, that make the state of Michigan run. We should all take pride in that investment, and in this organization for doing just that.”