Tunnel Vision: World-class tunnel training developing at Satsop Park


Tunnel Vision: World-class tunnel training developing at Satsop Park

Stan Simons, right, works to secure the 45-ton cutting head of a donated tunnel boring machine that while not operational, will become a teaching tool in developing tunnel training courses.

Mike Warren, the training director of the Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust, has “tunnel vision” – or rather a vision for building a world-class tunnel training program at Satsop Development Park.

“The Puget Sound area is beginning to get the nickname in the tunnel industry as the Silicon Valley of tunnels because of all the work that is coming up here. Also, three of the world’s biggest tunnel manufacturing companies are right here,” said Warren.

The first tunnel class this fall to be taught at Satsop – SHAFT (Safety & Hazard Awareness for Tunnels) – will begin Oct. 4. It’s a one-week, 40-hour course.

With all the tunnels – including the next phase of the Sound Transit project to the University District and the Alaskan Way viaduct project in downtown Seattle and more projects coming in the years ahead – skilled tunnel workers are needed, he explained.

“And when we get done putting together our different training modules at Satsop, we will offer the only hands-on training of its kind in North America,” he said. He noted that there’s excellent training at the Colorado School of Mines and in West Virginia, but that the training to be developed at Satsop will be more hands-on and concentrate on tunnels instead of mine work.

Warren helped establish Satsop as one of the NW Laborers Training sites in 2007.

Known as “Helene,” the tunnel boring machine, including its 45-ton cutting head, 74.5-ton front shield, 40-ton middle shield and two 5.5 manlocks, were all donated by Vinci, Parsons, Frontier-Kemper, one of the joint ventures boring tunnels for King County’s Brightwater Wastewater Treatment project.

“At Satsop, we’ve already taught mason tending, scaffolding building, concrete classes, railroad installation, grade checking, transit and level, elevation control, asphalt workers class and forklift operation and certification,” Warren said.

Satsop Development Park was chosen for this new tunnel training center because it offered space that was becoming tight at the NW Laborers Training facility in Kingston. In addition, originally organizers thought they could use the extensive tunnel network built beneath the planned nuclear power plants that were never completed, Warren said.

While hopes are still high that some of those pre-existing 12-foot tunnels can be used for training as the center develops, some significant work would need to be done first to ensure safety, Warren said.

“We’re not going underground yet, ” he said, adding that instead they are working on a simulated tunnel and using a local merchant to supply the 1,800 pieces of specialty wood needed for the students to build it.

In addition, Warren said the tunnel industry has generously donated many key pieces of equipment. The Obayashi Corporation donated 300 feet of railroad track. Frank Coluccio Construction Co. donated a hyperbaric transfer station and the Vinci, Parsons Frontier-Kemper Joint Venture donated a huge tunnel boring machine – TBM-all so that students can have a true hands-on experience. Even King County donated 100 feet of leftover concrete tunnel segments that would have cost them money to destroy, but are a great asset to the training program, Warren said.

“These are big, big donations to help us put together a top-notch training program,” Warren said.Tunnel instructor Stan Simons guides the middle shield # 1 of the tunnel boring machine when it was moved to Satsop Development Park this summer.

After the NW Laborers Training facility at Satsop offers the SHAFT class, it plans to offer a class on light rail and maintenance, tunnel rescue training and hyperbaric work, Warren said.

In an interesting twist, the tunnel instructor, Stan Simons, 50, who has been underground around the world, began his career at Satsop in 1978 doing dirt work for both cooling towers, both reactor buildings, and the turbine building.

Now Simons says he’s eager to be teaching this new course and working hard to develop other related tunnel courses at Satsop.

“We love this partnership with the NW Laborers Training and we’re particularly excited about the new tunnel training courses,” said Tami Garrow, CEO of Satsop Development Park.

“The building trades are a huge part of our regional economy and we’re so glad the Park’s space, super-sized infrastructure, classrooms and outdoor training facilities so perfectly suit these kinds of job-training opportunities.”

For more information about the tunnel classes go to www.nwlett.org.

Satsop Development Park is conveniently located

Satsop Development Park is a 1,700-acre mixed-use business and technology park in scenic Grays Harbor County, just 30 minutes from Olympia. It is home to more than 30 businesses and 440 acres of developed, pad-ready land and buildings supported by super-sized infrastructure and surrounded by 1,200 acres of forestland.

The Park is managed by the Grays Harbor Public Development Authority, a public corporation whose mission is to create new jobs and investment for the region.

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