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A Living Laboratory

New training center for plumbers features innovative, exposed plumbing methods

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Photo: Tom Harris

The new Plumbers Local 130 UA Training Center in Chicago is a teaching tool for apprentices that incorporates state-of-the-art technologies and plumbing training workshops. Designed by Gensler, Chicago, the center is located in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The 50,000-square-foot, three-story facility showcases advanced water conservation technologies, complemented by hands-on labs and classrooms.

To create a larger, more powerful member base in the changing economic climate of the post-recession, Chicago Local 130 Plumbers Union consolidated with several other suburban and southeast Wisconsin plumbing unions. Grant C. Uhlir, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, managing director and principal at Gensler, says the combined organization needed a training facility for apprenticeship program growth to position them for the future of plumbing technologies, while focusing on the increasing importance of recognizing water as a resource. “The project’s location in the city of Chicago is a direct reflection of the Union’s commitment to the city,” he says.

To attract and inspire new generations of plumbers, designers chose to use materials synonymous to the plumbing trade. A copper façade, copper pipe, galvanized steel and black pipe serve as inspiration for the new training facility, which includes six wet labs, conference rooms, lobby spaces and a rooftop gathering area. Featuring stunning views of the Chicago skyline, the roof deck gives plumbers a chance to learn from rooftop water technology, as well as host special events. Additionally, the project incorporates cutting-edge technology such as rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, solar-vacuum-tube water heaters and water recirculation.

Photo: Tom Harris

Inside, walls that are normally opaque are clear, allowing apprentices and visitors to see the plumbing inside the walls. “The building is a constant laboratory,” Uhlir says. “The project team always wanted to display the plumbing systems whenever possible. In all other buildings the plumbing is mostly hidden, we had an opportunity not only to display the plumbing, but to celebrate the plumbing.”

Uhlir notes that for James F. Coyne, the Plumbers Local 130 union business manager and JAC Chairman, the new training facility couldn’t just meet today’s needs, but had to address an evolving industry and prepare the next generation of plumbers to meet future water and energy demands. “The new building wouldn’t just teach these systems and techniques,” Uhlir says, “the state-of-the-art facility will become a living laboratory for apprentices to gain hands-on experience with the industries’ top tech.”

Approximately 17,000 square feet of copper panels from Dri-Design, Holland, Mich., adorn the exterior of the facility, along with 10,000 square feet of black metal panels from Bristol, Conn.-based Morin Corp., a Kingspan Group company. Tuschall Engineering Co., Burr Ridge, Ill., installed the metal panels, while Affordable Welding U.S. Inc. Iron Works, Chicago, supplied the structural steel.

According to Uhlir, the tight urban site provided an interesting design challenge. “Training facilities and shop spaces are typically on one large floor,” he says. “To fully utilize the available space the design team developed a hybrid wet lab, combining the function of a training space and a classroom. This innovative design solution not only saved on much needed space, but accelerated the process of textbook learning and actual doing.”

“Protecting the health of the nation is the core mission of the plumbers’ union,” Uhlir says. “The new training center celebrates that tradition while propelling the trade into the next century of innovation.”