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Trade unions plan training center

Trade unions propose to bring about 35 jobs to a former beverage distribution center in Oregon City by moving a regional trade school currently located in the Corvallis area, and by consolidating and moving three union offices currently located in East Portland.

In addition to those full- and part-time jobs set to move to Oregon City, up to 20 apprentices at a time from across the state would train there instead of at the Oregon Southern Idaho District training facility in Adair Village near Corvallis.

Oregon City's 1980-era building at 13990 Fir St., near Highway 213 and Clackamas Community College's campus in the Gaffney Lane neighborhood, has sat unused since June 2010 when Morgan Distributing relocated out near the Portland airport.

'It'll also bring business into Oregon City hotels and restaurants because we represent 1,000 workers total, but about 150 of us live outside of the metro area,' said Ken Morgan, business manager for Laborers' Local 296, whose members focus on the building trades, including shipyard work and masonry.

Morgan joked that it's just a coincidence that he shares a name with Morgan Distributing, which tried to sell its building to a juice maker last year before the deal fizzled out.

This year, Oregon City's Planning Commission unanimously approved the building for trades training, given the five-acre site's zoning and traffic patterns, but the unions still need to obtain a deed for the property and receive construction permits for their proposed remodel.

Henry Fitzgibbon of Soderstrom Architects said that this would be a simple remodel of the Morgan brewery since the large door is already in place. Loading docks, which already have roofs on the current 60,000-square-foot facility, would be converted into conference rooms.

'This is for people who are getting into the trades - they need to know how to properly frame a wall, use a backhoe and that sort of stuff, so this building will become a training center for three of the union shops,' Fitzgibbon said.

A public-sector union will get basic training in maintenance and custodial duties, but training could extend to a wide range of subjects. Trainees would learn concrete cutting, blow-in insulation, GPS fundamentals, demolition, asphalt raking, mason tending, bridge construction, concrete cutting, pipe laying, weatherization, rigging and signaling, torch cutting, air-tool safety, environmental awareness, framing and dismantling walls, erecting and dismantling scaffolding and erecting and dismantling falsework for bridges.

'In the grand scheme of things, a workforce needs to be as highly skilled as possible to compete, and this facility is going to be an improvement in a number of respects from our Corvallis digs,' said Dale Campbell, construction project manager for the union district.

Although the union expects cost savings and efficiencies associated with the consolidation, it's hoping for increased camaraderie associated with working together on projects, not fewer numbers.

'The assumption is that they're not going to be giving up their positions, they'll just be in a better position to do their jobs more efficiently,' Campbell said. 'Once this recession finally turns around, we'll be able to take advantage of pent-up demand. I used to own a construction company, so I know that the best time to take on expansion is when things are slow.'

William Gifford, secretary of the Citizen Involvement Council, said he was 'a little concerned about the lack of specificity' on the project, but he ended up joining the council's unanimous vote this month to support the remodeling.

District union member and project consultant Jay Minor said he hoped to close the sale with Morgan Distributing in October, and then it would be six months of construction, budgeted at $1.5 million. According to Oregon City records, the net market value of the property and existing buildings was $2.8 million as of November 2010.

Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley said that he expected the project details to work out in the city's favor.

'At least at the first blush, I'm very looking forward to having them come,' Neeley said. 'Anything that would bring some concentrated level of job and development within the city, I think is a really great thing.'

In addition to training, the facility would provide ancillary support services to the union members through an up to 800-square-foot health center, meeting space for 30 to 40 people, a maximum 400-square-foot food bank, and a community center for ongoing educational opportunities to union members covering topics such as developing English language skills, family management training and personal health.

Although plans are to host four to six evening meetings per month for union members only, Campbell said he hopes to open up the site to the community at large for free use as a meeting site during available evening and weekend hours.