The Best of IBEW

Apprentices entering the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) Local 26 in Lanham, Md., will be enrolling in the best kind of training available, according to JATC officers there. The new facility—which replaces the current International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) offices and JATC classrooms in Washington, D.C.—is one of the finest in the country.

It has been a long time coming for Local 26. The D.C. JATC and IBEW at the offices on 6200 Kansas Avenue needed a better facility for years. Local 26 had been there since 1969 and had long outgrown the space.

The parking and facilities for the thousands of apprentices and journeymen that pass through the training program and the IBEW offices didn’t suit the needs of the organization.

Local 26 bought a space in Lanham that is now considered by IBEW officials to be a shining example of a state-of-the-art training center for electrician apprentices.

The new building is out of the District of Columbia, but can be just as accessible to the apprentices and IBEW officers based in Virginia and Maryland as the previous building was, said Ralph Neidert, JATC Local 26 assistant director.

The JATC and IBEW set up shop in a 62,000-square-foot Land Rover corporate building and sales office. Once the building was gutted and reconstructed, JATC training would take place on the first floor of the building, while the IBEW officers would share the top floor with the credit union and other future tenants. It would also include a 500-seat meeting room.

Renovate and remodel

First the building needed some work. The union hall chose The Electric Shop, Clarksville, Md., for all security and access control, and Freestate Electric Construction/Service Co., Beltsville, Md., for other low- and high-voltage installations in the classrooms and throughout the building. The project was divided into three phases as county permits were received.

Demolition began in September 2005. Peter Bulcavage, project manager for Buch Construction, Laurel, Md., described it as “full-scale gutting.” As an automotive manufacturer retail building, it had included a showroom complete with a rock ramp in the lobby to park vehicles and a test track in the back with more rocks to demonstrate the vehicles’ performance.

“We got rid of every rock,” Bulcavage said.

All electric was pulled back to the panels. Workers salvaged electrical boxes, switchgear, transformers and some light fixtures and as much heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) as possible.

“We took everything from the ground up,” said Mike Kaline, manager of voice and data, Freestate Electric.

The owner had a state-of-the-art vision of backbone cabling for projectors, LCD screens, plasma-screen televisions and an auditorium with all the latest media features. There is video on demand and LCD projectors in every classroom, all which report back to a media retrieval room that is visible to students through a glass wall.

During phase one, Buch Construction began second-floor tenant spaces—an entire 1,800 square feet to include the credit union and offices, with the exception of 5,500 square feet for the new union hall. In phase two, construction began on the JATC training area, which Bulcavage described as the most interesting and challenging part of the project.

“I’ve never done a classroom scenario like this where we replicate real-life scenarios,” Bulcavage said.

Not only did they need to make the electrical power functional, it had to be a space where class after class of apprentices can scrutinize and learn.

The fire alarm training classroom, for example, includes an 8-foot wall with pull stations, strobes and horns. Fire alarm panels, pull stations and relay modules are available to the students. Freestate Electric installed electric, fire alarm and voice and data systems. A voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone set was necessary, Kaline said, because versatility is needed for JATC training. The system allows for satellite office access with high-speed connections.

Flexibility was another key feature to this project. Kaline described it as “design/build done on a compressed schedule.” Because the electricians were working for the Local 26, everybody worked together, he said.

The learning areas total 16 and include the security and a special classroom for connecting 480-volt transformers. Apprentices have a motor control room and programmable logic control/variable frequency drives (PLC/VFD) area. There is a CAD and computer classroom with removable walls, allowing for two classes with a total of 20 computers in the room. In the switching lab, new apprentices learn to wire lights and receptacles. The building automation lab includes computerized lighting, and another room is specific to voice/data/video and telecommunications labs.

In a full welding and instrumentation lab, contractors installed fume exhaust while Buch added masonry walls between every work center. An exterior power pole is on display in the hallway showing how the power poles are connected. Another room is devoted to conduit bending and high-voltage splicing. There is theater-style seating auditorium for up to 70 students and a motorized drop-down projection screen.

One room includes a raised floor with a cable tray running down from the telephone room, which is also enclosed in glass. There, students can appreciate the fiber optic cable coming in, the T1 line and the VoIP phone system.

The main lobby is dedicated to the local union with a glass wall to exhibit the media retrieval room. The media retrieval system may be the showcase of the entire project. Here, students can not only view much of its working parts, but the system also provides them with the tools they need to learn such as the ability to upload DVDs, VHS, live TV—any of which can be viewed on any computer in the building.

“There are hundreds of hours of medial training tools for instructors,” Bulcavage said, likening the entire system to a TiVo with more memory. “Not only is it a show piece, it’s fully functional.”

In the media room, all cabling is exposed on wire harnesses and run so people can look in through glass windows to see the work.

“The average public doesn’t see the switchgear,” said Niedert. In this case, however, the switchgear is installed in the lobby, which ties back to the main working system. And although it is not operating the building, it will appear functional.

The Electric Shop installed closed-circuit television surveillance (CCTV), card access and security throughout the building. It wired digital recorders to show up to 48 images from 48 cameras on three screens. Each screen can be broken into 16 pictures. The system has the ability to play back while recording and allows users to view anything recorded within the history of the camera.

“You can operate it from any local computer that has the software so [the Local 26] can monitor the whole building from any of their computers,” said John Coffman, project manager, the Electric Shop.

The Electric Shop installed the digital video recorders on equipment racks so that digital recorders could be visible.

“With cabling exposed we had to pay special attention to the work,” Coffman said.

The company also installed a card access system for close to 30 doors throughout the facility. Authorized individuals will use key cards that are uniquely programmed to allow them access to certain parts of the building. There are cards for up to 5,000 users, which can be coded individually to offer different levels of access. The access system can also be scheduled on a timer to shut off all access after a certain hour.

Technologically trained

“The electricians coming through this building are going to be some of the best trained in the country,” Bulcavage said.

However, this Maryland training center is not the only JATC facility leap-frogging with technology advancements. The Omaha, Neb., Local 22 NJATC training center, for example, is another new facility with all the bells and whistles technology offers.

Completed in May 2006, the training facility brought new challenges and will offer new opportunities to professional electrical contractors who want to learn with the best.    EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at


About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at .

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