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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grant to help put green in city buildings

Spokane could become the land of environmentally friendly buildings – a place where architects capture natural heat and light to lower operation costs, and there’s a strong pool of workers to install the new elements.

That’s the vision of an adjunct professor at Washington State University Spokane.

Jim Wavada is a state Department of Ecology worker who has been teaching architects and designers about green technologies for the past few years.

“We’re seeking to try and brand Spokane for developers and owners to build green,” Wavada said.

To do that, you need workers trained in a variety of fairly simple but new building techniques like installing new kinds of wall board or insulated concrete forms.

Now a $379,000 state grant will train about 500 construction workers, architects, project managers and site superintendents in a number of products designed to be more environmentally friendly.

The Job Skills Program grant was awarded through the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and will be managed by the Training and Education Coordination Center, a branch of Institute for Extended Learning. This is the first Washington Job Skills Program in the state specializing in the training or use of environmentally friendly skills and products, Wavada said.

A series of trainings will be offered beginning in July and continue for the next 15 months, Wavada said.

“We’re talking about things that are in the real world, not things that are out there on the edge,” Wavada said. “This is stuff that is being done in other parts of the country.”

For instance, one training session could focus on the installation of structural insulated panels, which are sheets of foam sandwiched between two wheat boards, Wavada said. The panels lock into place, but workers must know how to make room for wiring and cables.

“The whole object is to give them new skills that will make them more employable,” Wavada said.

For more information on the training, people should call 533-4700.

“My lead role is to help develop the content for the first set of trainings and help identify experts,” Wavada said. “Most of them are being imported (from out of town) right now.”

Wavada developed extensive contacts while bringing in experts for classes at WSU Spokane.

What’s helping drive the need for this kind of training is the number of public buildings that are starting to include elements of green design and practices. For instance, Shea Graham Construction Inc. agreed to recycle 75 percent of its building waste for a WSU contract, Wavada said.

For the longest time, these kinds of sustainable design and practices were mostly seen in Portland and Seattle.

“These kinds of requirements are starting to show up on this side of the mountains,” Wavada said. “We’re a ways behind Portland. We’re not very far behind Seattle. We are where Seattle was five years ago.”

As the pattern goes, public building projects start using more environmentally friendly designs that end up saving more money in operation costs, he said. Then the ideas catch on in the private sector. Many times it’s as simple as how the building is located on a site to best use the natural light and warmth, he said.

“Mechanical systems are usually the most expensive so if you can take advantage of the sun for heat and light, energy bills can be cut back considerably,” Wavada said.

By the fall of 2005, the training program will be turned over to Community Colleges of Spokane.

Joanne Murcar, interim dean of business and community education at the IEL said, “Part of the goal is to offer and provide the training to our instructors so it can be integrated into our curriculum.”

While most of the coming training is based on commercial building, Murcar said, there’s an effort to expand the program into the use of green technologies in residential home building.

“We’re looking at other places where this can be useful,” Murcar said. “We certainly think this is curriculum and training that needs to continue.”

Spokane Community College is looking at ways to incorporate green technologies into its new science building. Spokane Schools are also committed to using sustainable building and green elements in coming new buildings.

“I think the concept of it is a wonderful thing,” said Catherine Rider, project manager for Garco Construction.

At the same time, the technologies and its usage is a little misunderstood locally because it is so new to the market, she said.

At this early stage, it’s unclear how important the green skills will be to the Spokane market.

“You will hear five different opinions in our office about that,” Riders said.

Jay Meyers, safety director at Garco, said his company plans to bid on the Spokane School’s buildings.

“To some extent, it’s going to depend on demand,” Meyers said. “Let’s say this does go over on a large scale. A contractor will call union hall or a company and say, ‘I need 10 carpenters.’ If you’re not trained you don’t get the job.”

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