Since it was built in 2016, Pittsburgh-based Steamfitters union Local 449 has held several open houses at its $18.5 million technology center in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
The events gave the public a chance to find out what the union’s 2,700 workers do, and how important the HVAC, welding, piping, and other work they perform is to the community.
It’s uncertain how many of them notice the exposed ductwork and complex fume-collection system that SMACNA member Renick Brothers Mechanical Contractors installed in the training center, but that doesn’t matter to Aaron Davis, Renick’s sheet metal division general manager. He’s proud of the work his employees did to install the HVAC system that serves the 75,000-square-foot facility.
“We consider (it) to be a prestigious job,” Davis said, adding that the Renick often works with the Steamfitters union.
The project awarded to the Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, mechanical contractor was a competitive bid including fabrication of the ductwork and installation of the center’s HVAC system. Its scope also covered installing the two large fume collectors that would serve the training center’s 66 welding booths. Each collector is capable of moving air at 31,500 cubic feet per minute.
The Industrial Look
What made the project unusual was the extensive use of exposed duct — generally rectangular, not spiral, ductwork. The duct would be painted gray. “They were going for that industrial look,” Davis said. “You don’t see that on very many projects.”
What that meant for Davis’ crew was that they would be working extensively with Paint Grip-coated steel. Paint Grip metal has a special coating that allows paint to easily adhere to the metal’s surface. The fabricators and installers would have to be extra careful, since any imperfections could be visible. “Everything had to look very neat and proper,” Davis added.
The project also required 65,000 pounds of ductwork. That put Renick’s sheet metal shop to work at full capacity, making fittings on the company’s Iowa Precision plasma table from Mestek Machinery.
It was a fast-paced project that needed to be completed within nine months, Davis said. Job site organization was therefore extensive, with Davis’ installation crews working alongside contractors handling the building’s sprinkler system, piping, plumbing, conduit, and other trades. “The coordination was very detailed,” Davis said.
It helped that Renick Bros. is experienced in building information modeling (BIM), and it used Autodesk’s Revit software to create a 3D model of the HVAC system before installation to ensure it didn’t clash with the building’s other installing trades.
Also helpful was the knowledge of Renick’s sheet metal workers who are all well-versed in SMACNA standards, using the third edition of SMACNA’s HVAC Duct Construction Standards — Metal and Flexible to complete the project. They often refer to this resource to ensure the ductwork they make satisfies both clients and code inspectors.
“We use that for all our projects, “Davis said. “Regardless of whether it’s industrial or commercial, we always make sure to use SMACNA standards.” Davis said he likes the flexibility the manual gives contractors on making duct while still ensuring it meets the association’s requirements. It helps that the engineering community trusts SMACNA too, he added.
“SMACNA standards are so widely known and widely used that any engineer that I’ve worked with uses SMACNA standards or at least references them,” he said.
Since it opened, the Steamfitters UA Local 449 training center has been cited by the Pennsylvania governor’s office as an excellent example of the kind of skilled training programs the Keystone State needs to meet the required skills of today’s employers.
“We must make the strategic investments in education and training programs that
create the skilled talent pipelines for employers to succeed and thrive,” said Jerry Oleksiak, the state’s labor and industry secretary, at a recent tour of the training center. “Growing and expanding apprenticeship and training programs provide employers with well-trained workers while helping job seekers gain the valuable skills they need to obtain family-sustaining jobs.”
Steamfitters UA Local 449 Business Manager Ken Broadbent agreed, saying that’s why the union opened the facility. “We built our new 75,000-square-foot facility to help increase our training capacity and to expand our existing apprenticeship program, which trains workers for free,” Broadbent said. “Our goal is to produce the most educated, qualified, and productive workers to help meet local employer demand.”