City Light’s new $12M training center will help fill gap left when half of workforce retires in 5 years

Seattle City Light crews that climb power poles or use bucket trucks to work on overhead power lines undergo hands-on training to help them keep the juice flowing.

They and the other approximately 1,600 employees of City Light — from crews that maintain electrical substations to office workers — receive training. That can include things such as safety education, environmental policy updates, and line crew continuing education and apprenticeship programs.

That training happens at various sites, but City Light wants to consolidate it in one place for efficiency, said Bernie O’Donnell, who is director of utility support services for the public utility that provides power to Seattle.

To that end, next year City Light plans to start building its Technical Training Center in the South Park area and open it about a year later.

City Light’s workforce is aging, O’Donnell said, with over 50 percent eligible for retirement in the next five years. “It’s a big deal,” he said. “It means a lot of training is going to be necessary coming up.”

O’Donnell said it’s critical that the specialized crews that work outside and at the electrical substations be trained, along with other City Light employees.

The 13,000-square-foot Technical Training Center will be on 4.5 acres just north of the Duwamish substation, which is at 10000 W. Marginal Place S. Outdoors, there will be areas for instruction and practicing pole climbing, tower rescue, electrical vault work and overhead power work.

The project is estimated to cost $12 million, which includes $2 million for environmental habitat restoration/enhancements to 4 acres of wetlands between the training center and the adjacent Duwamish River.

The restoration is mitigation for City Light creating the building site by filling in wetlands, work for which it is seeking approval by the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

The mitigation may take longer than a year, O’Donnell said, but “we want to make sure we get that right.”

The project will also have limited public parking and two public trails — along Hamm Creek and from the training center to the Duwamish River.

Schacht|Aslani Architects is designing the training center, which inside will have two large classrooms for professional and technical training, a computer lab, a lab where employees will learn to hook up electrical meters, and an area where they can practice working on overhead power lines in an enclosed environment. Part of the inside will open to the outdoors.

Outdoor crews will practice climbing power poles, hooking up commercial and residential buildings by pulling electrical cable from one above- or under-ground vault to another, and maintaining and operating a mock electrical substation.

Crews will climb 40-foot-tall transmission and distribution towers, which in the field are upwards of 120 feet. All but one of City Light’s aerial trucks can only go to 65 feet, so sometimes the crews must climb the towers to work on them or to rescue an injured worker, O’Donnell said.

The workers will also be trained on City Light’s one aerial truck that can go over 65 feet. It is the Condor Unit, a $1.2 million mobile aerial work platform, which has a reach of 170 feet that allows work on some of the city’s highest transmission and distribution towers.

Additionally, some employees will be trained in the utility’s fleet of mobile equipment, including street-lighting and line trucks, cranes, backhoes and dump trucks.

The training center is designed to be LEED gold certified. It will have two electrical charging stations for vehicles, solar panels on the roof and automated energy controls, including self-dimming lights. It will be built with sustainably certified wood and employ strategies to reduce water use and runoff, O’Donnell said.

Scott Luchessa, a senior environmental analyst with City Light, said the proposed environmental mitigation will replace about 3 acres of low-functioning emergent wetlands that have developed in dredge spoils with about 4 acres of high-functioning intertidal wetlands. Those wetlands will be sloped from the center toward the river.

The emergent wetlands, he said, are effectively isolated from the river, so juvenile fish cannot reach them. The intertidal wetlands, Luchessa said, will give those fish a place to forage and escape high water flows in storms.

“There’s all kinds of species that will benefit from the intertidal restoration,” he said.

Loss of intertidal wetlands is causing poor survival rates for juvenile chinook salmon, he said, as there are not enough areas for them to forage and fatten up before they head to Puget Sound.

City Light bought the project site in the 1950s for future expansion of its adjacent Duwamish substation, but O’Donnell said the utility is meeting customers’ electrical needs without it. The idea is that in 30 to 50 years the training center would be demolished and the substation expanded, if need be, he said.

The project team includes Nakano Associates, landscape architect; LPD Engineering, civil engineering; Swenson Say Faget, structural engineer; Hargis Engineers, MEP consultant; O’Brien & Co., sustainability consultant; Confluence Environmental Co., mitigation design consultant; and The Greenbusch Group, LEED commissioning consultant.

IMAGE CREDITS

Schacht Alsani Architects

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