Training and Building for the Region’s Future

Training and Building for the Region’s Future


The International Brotherhood Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 697 has a state-of-the-art headquarters, offering leading edge training programs as well as degree programs with colleges and universities. Ray Kasmark, business manager, says that these changes have made Local 697 one of the most forward-looking unions. “When you only move every 60 years, you need to make sure you do it right. We were located in Hammond in a one story building. Our training center was a mile away with only three small classrooms. Now we are centrally located on 20 acres and are in the process of restoring woodlands and wetlands on our campus. It’s a collaborative effort and it’s been well received. The building is 42,000 square feet and 60 percent of it is dedicated to a training center. We have seven large classrooms, a computer lab and an applications lab. Our groundbreaking was in September, 2009 and our grand opening was during April, 2011. Our members, officers, and partners saved and planned for this project for over ten years. Our new home serves as another proud symbol of our great Brotherhood, and partnerships for generations to come,” says Kasmark.

This state-of-the-art union hall and training center is designed as a living laboratory and features glass walls showcasing main switchgear and low voltage mainframes and video screens monitoring building performance. The open air third floor classroom features photovoltaic arrays manufactured by IBEW members at the Sharp factory in Tennessee and were installed, monitored, and maintained by the training center students. A section of the building containing a “green” roof is also viewable from that level. LED’s are used in all exterior fixtures, and a daylight dimming system will be employed in the main interior commons area.

The building’s roof includes 96 solar panels which produce 6% of their annual energy needs at just below 30 megawatt hours of electrical energy each year. This translates to a savings of $3,500 each year, the equivalent of planting 10 trees every month and over 22 tons of carbon offset from the atmosphere each year, which boils down to sustainability. The function of the solar arrays is multifaceted, including helping to attain multiple LEED credits that helped the building achieve its Gold Certification; one for producing energy onsite with renewable means, another by reducing the building’s overall energy requirements significantly, and one for innovation by producing all of the construction power with renewable energy from this system. The system also served as a hands-on training device during installation and continues to serve the training center as part of the third floor open-air renewable energy laboratory to train the future generation for green jobs. Additionally, in the view of climate change crisis and as stewards of the environment, Local 697 has chosen to lead by example by producing a significant portion of their energy with clean, non-polluting, renewable means.

The building also contains a 1,000 square foot palletized roof garden over the west end of the main lobby sigh plants, soil, drainage gravel, and trays. This section of roof supports was engineered and constructed specifically for this “demonstration” garden. Besides the pleasing views, green roofs provide mitigation of the urban heat island effect, noise reduction, fire prevention, and contribute to water reduction and storm water retention. An arborist was also used during construction to determine which trees to remove for the health of the woods and for building. The trees were locally milled and used for furniture in the center and paneling.

The outdoor classroom helps to train for the future. “We wanted to train our members in this new field. It’s also an advertisement to potential customers. We wanted to show the community what is possible, and that we can be on the leading edge of technology,” Kasmark says. The classroom is but one innovating component of the building along with its solar features. Additionally, Local 697 is planning to install a wind turbine, the first for any union in Indiana. “We are positioning our apprentices to be business partners. We are all about continuous improvement,” says Kasmark.

The Lake County Electrical Apprenticeship and Training Center provides educational opportunities for individuals seeking careers in the electrical, voice, data, and video industries. Local 697 has joined with major equipment manufacturers to develop cutting-edge educational curriculum for workers and contractors which impacts customers and the marketplace. They also work with local colleges, such as Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and Purdue University Calumet. As a result, local businesses seek Local 697 members to complete their projects, knowing the work is the absolute best in the field. One such project, BP North America utilized Local 697 members in their recent Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. “We are grateful to be in a position to provide opportunity during these otherwise challenging economic times,” said Kasmark.

Ken Jania, training director, says, “We bring in a number of apprentices each year based on market demand. We are able to immediately employ our apprentices and recently the housing market has taken off. About 70% of the housing projects are done with our people. Apprentices work in all facets of the market. Many start in residential and move to commercial, hospitals, schools, and specialty contractors and then industrial contractors. This gives apprentices a well-rounded feel for the job. If we’re training like medical professional train them, it’s a real hands-on experiences where they’re exposed to many different cases, and that’s what we try to do here.”

The new building has also helped to train these apprentices. “We worked with companies to design our classrooms for training. New technology is part of what this school offers. There are a number of things residential, commercial, and industrial customers can do to make their building more energy efficient, and the real goal of our school is for every day a student is in the school, half of that day is spent working with their hands, so it’s theory and applied. We have in our facility the latest cutting-edge technology that companies use. Think of how that impacts our market—they can train to truly make this region globally competitive. We have raised the bar and it’s driven by our market. That’s the key to Northwest Indiana.”

To showcase Local 697’s contributions to the community, a new South Shore poster was crafted by local artist Mitchell Markovitz, dedicated to the members, retirees, and contractor partners. The poster recognized Local 697’s accomplishments and talents and showcased them to a new group of potential customers and partners in academia and the business community. “Our focus was on People, Partnerships and Possibilities with the goal of introducing our organization and imparting a renewed appreciation of whom we are and what we continue to contribute to the overall quality of life here in the Calumet Region,” said Kasmark.

For More Info:

IBEW Local 697

7200 Mississippi St., Suite 200

Merrillville, IN

(219) 945-0697


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