Lehigh Valley residents interested in becoming union carpenters will no longer have to travel to Philadelphia to learn the trade now that the Carpenters Apprentice School has opened in Allentown.
Representatives from the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, local politicians and business leaders officially opened the new center at 1818 Vultee St. at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday in the school’s cavernous shop area.
The school, which opened three months ago with 12 students, pays students to train to become apprentice and journeymen carpenters in a four-year program. Students spend one day a week at the school and four days in the field learning on the job from experienced union carpenters.
“We tell them, ‘We are investing in you,’ ” said Kevin Lott, former president of the Lehigh Valley carpenters union, Local 167 of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters.
The school expects to draw students from the Greater Lehigh Valley now that they don’t have to drive to union schools in Philadelphia or New Castle and Georgetown, Del.
“I could not be prouder to have this facility in the city,” said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
He said many of the construction projects in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley used workers from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. The need for highly trained labor will continue as the boom continues in the Lehigh Valley, he said.
State Sen. Pat Browne, the architect of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone funding structure that brought more than $1 billion in redevelopment in downtown Allentown, said the skills of the workforce will be a key component keeping the local economy strong.
“The public and private sectors must continue to invest,” Browne said. “Nothing is more important than facilities like this.”
The union bought the 37,756-square-foot building, a former Victaulic manufacturing facility, in 2015. The building had been vacant for more than a year and needed a new roof and plumbing.
Alvin H. Butz Inc. and Roberson Butz Architects completed the renovations in September, which cost about $5 million, and included a $2 million state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program grant.
The renovated building includes a large, open shop area for teaching construction, offices, several classrooms and a welding training area, that includes actual and virtual welding that teaches students using a computer.
Charles Brock, director of apprenticeship and training, said the school invested $180,000 to $225,000 in new equipment. The $50,000 virtual welding machine made by Lincoln Electric helps students learn proper welding techniques without wasting expensive metals, Brock said.
Phil Radomski, co-chairman of the Joint Carpenter Apprentice Committee and owner of Frank Radomski, a general contracting company in Colmar, said the school is critical to ensuring there are highly skilled carpenters available.
“What makes me successful is a better trained workforce,” Radomski said.