The American Line Builders Apprenticeship Training (ALBAT) Center 
in Medway, Ohio, has been renovated and expanded to provide state-of-the-art classroom technology, lodging for a growing student base, and additional overhead and underground facilities to meet the needs of a demanding industry.


Because today’s students, instructors and lecturers aren’t always able to make it to a classroom, and because learning is sometimes most effective in the field, this facility takes advantage of the latest audio/video (AV) technology. The low-voltage and AV systems installed by Chapel Romanoff Technologies (CRT), Dayton, Ohio, enable the program to reach beyond the confines of the classroom. Automated LED lighting and controls, along with backup generation provided by Sidney Electric, Sidney, Ohio, complement the technology used at ALBAT’s campus.


The ALBAT program has been growing in part because the industry needed more outside electrical apprentices in the field. ALBAT has approximately 1,200 students in its program from eight states and Washington, D.C. The program launched in 1958 with the signing of the Apprenticeship Training Agreement in Chicago. ALBAT is jointly sponsored by NECA’s American Line Builders Chapter and signatory International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Unions in Districts 4 and 6 to train for the outside electrical industry.


The program’s training expanded in 1971 to include a mobile training unit: a tractor-trailer that folded out to become a 16-foot-by-26-foot classroom. In that space, apprentices learned first aid and CPR as well as underground electrical theory. Training expanded to include two-week field-training courses, which led to the first actual climbing school.


The classes found a permanent location at the Laurel Oaks Campus in Wilmington, Ohio, in 1973, and the courses increased to three weeks in length. The program continued to grow over the next two decades with ALBAT adding a dormitory and classroom for 32 trainees. However, the most recent renovation gave administrators the opportunity to expand the facility and bring in the latest technological advances.


In 2014, construction began on a new administrative office, followed by a two-story dormitory/training facility and ­multipurpose building. The new dorm/training facility space includes housing for 112 participants, three classrooms, storage and instructors’ office. The existing facility on the property, previously a dormitory and training space, was stripped of its furnishings and rebuilt to create what is now known as the multipurpose building. It offers more classroom space, a lab for cable splicing and terminations, an instructor’s office and a commons area for trainees.


Cutting-edge connectivity


The training center is designed to meet the standards of today’s advanced educational facilities and the needs of a new generation of technologically savvy trainees. To deliver instant access to information, classrooms are equipped for on- and off-site learning. Advanced visual, audio and wireless capability permit training opportunities using electronic devices, such as tablets and phones. Student workstations found in all three classrooms (32 in smaller rooms and 48 in the larger room) include all-in-one desktops for student online work, such as interactive simulations, topic research and testing.


The center supports many areas of study, including introductory training courses that are fundamental to the six disciplines that ALBAT provides. Advancement testing, job skill evaluation, and conduct testing and practicals related to NCCCO Crane Certification can all take place simultaneously. In the past, training was isolated to one activity in one room at a time.


“With the additional class space we now have, we are able to support more areas of our program at the same time,” said Danny Doss, ALBAT program director.


Other technological additions that were a part of the expansion are video content management, facility access control, automated LED lighting and CCTV. Many ECs, including CRT and Sidney Electric, helped build the electrical systems.


ALBAT developed and installed transmission and distribution systems to simulate the reality of electrical power systems installed throughout the world. Its overhead and underground systems include wood and steel poles, cabling and other steel structures. ALBAT simulates a transmission system for training on high-voltage systems. That includes an 80-foot steel lattice tower and wooden pole structures on the property.


These real-world training aides—coupled with specialized tools—support training in hot-line work. Hot stick tools provided by the Electrical Training ALLIANCE are used when working with high-voltage conductors. ALBAT’s simulated above-ground systems include a steel structure substation, its control house and breakers. Underground distribution systems include cabling, padmount transformers, load break cabinets and switches. ALBAT also doubled its indoor climbing facility to permit continuous training during inclement weather. The indoor facility includes distribution overhead, underground and substation equipment. ALBAT uses the simulated facilities for apprentice evaluation and advancement testing.


Mark Hanna, ALBAT assistant director, said they recently added the testing and evaluation of students “to ensure apprentices meet training standards.”


CRT, an affiliate company of Chapel Electric, Dayton, installed the AV support in each classroom and the administrative office conference room. The result is video and audio connectivity that goes well beyond the average classroom. The three classrooms have large screens that enable presentations, training material and internet-based content to be displayed for the classroom, said Mark Cohea, AV division manager, CRT. The systems include all AV, voice/data infrastructure cabling, access control, and a CCTV system with cameras distributed throughout the campus.


With the enhanced system, an instructor can teach those in the classroom while others watch remotely.


“We understand the geographic area we serve and recognize that we must employ the tools to complement a student’s ability to learn,” Hanna said.


Classroom design elements included consideration from seating type, placement and distance as well as higher ceilings that accommodate large projection screens. Each classroom can expand to accommodate additional participants. If there is a need to add classroom space, an adjacent room can be connected virtually. This permits classroom participation without needing a second presenter. Up to three classrooms can be interconnected for a single program.


Each classroom has an instructor desk equipped with a traditional PC setup, double monitors and user-friendly control panel. One monitor can serve as a confidence monitor for instructors to use when presenting lectures. They can view a presentation projected on the large screen behind them and also a virtual classroom.


The system from conferencing technology company Vidyo, Hackensack, N.J., enables students and instructors to communicate to a classroom or individual trainer remotely. If instructors are in the field, they can create a video session and share that content with the classroom wirelessly, in real time or by recording. Transmitting in real time over cellular or Wi-Fi, plus having cameras in the classroom, enables an off-site professional to interact with the classroom in both directions, seeing students as they communicate back with him or her.


State-of-the-art systems


Students are often videorecorded while learning proper climbing technique. ALBAT instructors analyze captured video, providing immediate feedback to the student in the field. Through its campus network, video can be shared with others. With the Crestron capture system, these video sessions can be recorded and played back later for training purposes.


Students can also use the technology to communicate directly with an instructor off-site. If they need to have a technical conversation, the instructor can see and hear the student, and supplement that conversation with the simultaneous use of other software applications.


CRT installed similar technology within the conference room, Cohea said. Meeting participants can speak with others remotely using old-fashioned teleconferencing, Biamp Systems audio processors or video conferencing using cameras in the rooms and wireless connectivity.


Students and staff members can access building doors and facility gates using a personal identification number (PIN). Similar access control technology is installed at the dorm rooms. Each student is provided with a temporary four-digit PIN code that is only active during the training period.


All electronic systems have backup power support. CRT provided and installed UPS systems for each conference and training room to keep systems running. During an outage, those systems provide uninterrupted power to campus computers and AV equipment throughout the transfer cycle of a starting generator.


CRT works with several dozen vendors to provide these solutions, including applications to enable a single interface with the classrooms. Manufacturers, such as Crestron, Vidyo and Biamp, help bring all of the systems together for seamless operation.


The challenge with a project such as this is striking a balance between an adaptable system and one that is easy to use.


“The biggest issue is trying to give the customer something that’s user-friendly but still has that flexibility,” Cohea said.


Instructors don’t necessarily have training in AV technology and need to be able to use it easily while in front of a classroom. However, a system also must enable a variety of use options.


Sidney Electric


Sidney Electric installed all lighting and power for the new dormitory and training facility, including the three classrooms, said Ted Michel, Sidney Electric estimator and project manager. The system consists of more than 300 lighting fixtures from Lithonia Lighting, Conyers, Ga., as well as the controls to manage lighting and occupancy sensors. For both lighting and power, the company installed 18,000 feet of conduit and 80,000 feet of cable. The 800-ampere electric service delivery for the building originated at the utility company pad-mount transformer.


For backup power, the company installed a 100-kilowatt Kohler natural-gas-fueled generator. Sidney Electric also installed a Secutron MR-2100 fire alarm system for the dormitory and training center, while another independent system covers the rest of the campus.


The work began for Sidney Electric in March 2015 and was completed one year later in March 2016. The company had five men on-site at peak. Michel said the greatest challenge was working with the building’s masonry.


“This type of construction takes a high level of coordination between the electrical and masonry contractors to ensure that all boxes and conduits are installed at the correct locations as specified on the drawings,” he said.


The opening ceremony for the expanded center was held in August 2016.


“This facility reflects ALBAT program’s commitment to excellence in training and safety in the outside electrical industry,” Hanna said.