SANTA ROSA -- A training center for North Coast apprentice electricians is getting a major upgrade as the skills needs grow to work on increasingly advanced automation, alternative-energy and energy-efficiency systems.

[caption id="attachment_69069" align="alignright" width="360"] A lab training board on advanced lighting controls[/caption]

Redwood Empire Electrical Training Trust purchased a 28,000-square-foot, two-building former plastic injection molding and electronics manufacturing facility adjacent to the current decades-old training center on Corby Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa for $1.19 million on Dec. 31.

Redwood Empire Joint Apprenticeship & Training Center (707-523-3837, rejatc.org) plans to occupy the 16,600-square-foot, two-story building at 1726 Corby, perhaps as soon as the early September for the start of fall semester classes, according to Steve Stobel, training director.

That's almost three times as much space as in than the current single-floor center, which has three classrooms, a computer lab and several labs with practice circuits and controls. The new building would have classrooms above the labs. A major benefit will be being able to have larger hands-on practice labs that don't have to be dismantled to make room for the next lesson, Mr. Stobel said.

[caption id="attachment_69070" align="alignleft" width="400"] Ryan Modell (left) and Tim Bowser work on a three-phase transformer trainer in the lab.[/caption]

"Now, if a student is in one of the three-sided [lab] booths, there is no room for an instructor to be inside to explain something," he said. "We're hoping we can double the size of the booths and simulate a wall they'd be working on in the field, versus a 3-foot-by-3-foot workstation."

Plans for the 11,000-square-foot front building at 1724 Corby are still developing, according to Mr. Stobel.

The committee that oversees the training center is talking to architects and contractors about improvements needed to 1726 Corby for the school to use it. The Redwood Empire JATC is supported by the National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551.

Mirroring a slump in North Bay construction employment since the peak of projects several years ago, enrollment at the training center is just more than half what it was. The center had 165 students when Mr. Stobel took over as training director in December 2008 when the global financial crisis was pushing the economy further into recession.

[caption id="attachment_69071" align="alignright" width="400"] Instructor Tom Ritch (right) checks conduit bending prowess of Kyle Payton (center) and Admin Alcazar (left).[/caption]

The two state-approved apprenticeship programs at the training center currently have 90 enrolled and bring on 10 new students a year as others graduate.

The average age of current apprentices is 25 years old, ranging in age from 20 to 50. One female apprentice is currently enrolled, but there have been as many as six in the program at one time recently, according to Mr. Stobel.

The five-year inside electrical apprenticeship program includes 8,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and 900 hours of class time. The three-year sound and communication apprenticeship program is taught by program graduates and requires 4,800 hours of training at work and 480 hours in the classroom.

Completing the coursework provides 57 credits through Santa Rosa Junior College toward an associate degree.

The training center also is one of 28 sites approved to train licensed electrical contractors and state-certified general electricians in techniques to install, tune, commission and maintain advanced lighting control systems under the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (calctp.org), developed by a coalition of NECA, IBEW, University of California at Davis and utilities such as PG&E. Those sorts of controls include dimmers, occupancy sensors, light sensors, relays and controls that can be managed remotely, such as over secure Internet connections.

[caption id="attachment_69072" align="alignleft" width="350"] Mark Dohner checks continuity on a three-phase motor.[/caption]

NECA and IBEW local unions have 10 joint apprenticeship training centers in the Bay Area. The other one in the North Bay is the Solano-Napa JATC (jatclu180.org) in Napa, operated by Local 180. It also offers the lighting control training, in addition to specialty training in wind- and solar-energy installations.

Planned buildout of the new Redwood Empire JATC could include include demonstrations of photovoltaic arrays, electric-vehicle charging stations and fuel-cell power plants, according to Mr. Stobel.

Paul Schwartz of Terra Firma Global Partners represented Cardoza Trust in the sale of 1724 and 1726 Corby. RPM Optoelectronics built the two-story building and occupied both until a few years ago.