It’s fitting that Laborers International Union Local 538 is building for the future by offering classes at the former Raymond Marquith Elementary School, 118 W. Main St., East Galesburg. Not only is education continuing in the former grade school, but Raymond Marquith was the business manager for the union in the 1950s and ’60s.
Marquith donated the land for the elementary school to Knoxville District 202 in 1962. District 202 closed the grade school after the 2002-03 school year. Local 538 bought it for $150,000 in October 2005.
Classes on a wide range of construction skills began on a regular basis this year. During a visit to the Laborers International Union North America Laborers Local 538 Hall & Training Center on Thursday, the 30-hour class on OSHA regulations was under way, with 22 of the 30 students present. Some students were not in attendance because of icy roads that day.
The school is one of four satellite training facilities of the Mount Sterling Facility in Brown County, southwest of Galesburg. Other satellite training centers are in Stanford in McLean County, and Marion and Edwardsville in southern Illinois.
Michael Tuthill, business manager/secretary-treasurer for Local 538, said that while there is an emphasis on training local people, the center attracts construction workers from a wide area who are looking to upgrade their skills. A number of skills, such as global positioning satellite training and Occupational Safety and Health Administration training, require state certificates. The training facility in East Galesburg offers workers a nearby location to earn those certificates.
“They drive down here from Rockford, the Peoria area,” Tuthill said.
Lodging is provided for those who come from a great distance, as are meals. No tuition is charged.
“There could be up to 10 people staying in a local hotel,” Tuthill said. “We hope within a year or so” to expand the offerings.
“The training is completely free to all participants,” said Mike Matejka, director of Governmental Affairs for the Great Plains Laborers District Council. “Working laborers put in 80 cents an hour out of their checks to pay for training and that’s matched by the contractor.”
Matejka said things have changed in the construction industry.
“Ten years ago, 20 years ago in labor, you signed up at the (union) hall and if you were willing to go out and hit it, you eventually caught on,” he said. “Now we have a three-year apprenticeship program.”
Tuthill said persons who are at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or their GED certificate — and pass a drug test — can call and make arrangements to take a 110-question aptitude test.
“You’ll be tested on different things,” Tuthill said. “You’ll get a score on that test and that will determine where you are on that (apprentice) list. We want people who want to get into (construction.)”
Matejka said construction is hard work but offers a number of advantages.
“We can still offer a job with decent pay, health care and a pension,” he said.
Galesburg Mayor Sal Garza, who is employed by the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, stopped by Thursday with a number of questions. He seemed excited by the potential of the center.
“Just in Galesburg, ... we have about $100 million worth of work, with the underpass and overpasses, the third rail (BNSF yard expansion) and the Ameren cleanup (at the former McCabe’s Scrap Iron),” he said.
Garza said the Ameren clean up, scheduled to begin last fall, has been delayed about a year, and work on the first of the overpasses on West Main Street is not expected to begin until later in the year.
“My hope is we’ll have enough people trained, because it would be a shame to have to call in outside people,” the mayor said.
There are about eight classrooms and a gymnasium at the old grade school. Steve Fox, who is now field supervisor for Great Plains Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, said there is likely capacity for as many as 75 students at a time.
“We do flagger training in the gymnasium,” Fox said. “All the certified flaggers come out of this school.”
The school grounds are used for such things as GPS training.