July 03, 2008

Training initiative benefits Laborers, University

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- An agreement signed recently by Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the Illinois Laborers’ and Contractors’ Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program is an absolute “win-win,” according to University and union officials.

The Laborers are conducting their apprenticeship program training at SIUC’s Touch of Nature, with the environmental center benefiting from improvements to sidewalks, parking lots, driveways and more. Whenever Mother Nature allows, workers will be on site at the camp, learning their trades while making much-needed improvements. Union members are coming from 93 Illinois counties for the training and many will enjoy overnight lodging at Touch of Nature.

“The agreement with the Laborers Union and SIUC reverses a declining infrastructure at our Touch of Nature facility that has been taking place over the past several years,” said SIU President Glenn Poshard. “The benefits of having road repairs and sidewalk and building repairs while utilizing our hotel facility have great merit for SIU. We are extremely grateful for the partnership with the Laborers in helping us improve this important facility, which has such a rich history of serving special needs children.”

The Laborers recently opened a new training facility in Marion, but adding work experience at Touch of Nature will greatly enhance their training program, according to Clint B. Taylor, administrator of the Laborer’s and Contractors Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program. Taylor said that previously, workers would do training activities, including pouring concrete or asphalt at the training site, and then have to turn around and tear it out so the next crew could start all over again. Now, union members from all over the state, with the exception of Cook County and a number of collar counties, will get hands-on training at the camp, constructing infrastructure that will remain in place and benefit campers for years to come.

“This will benefit us two-fold really,” Taylor said. “We will have a place to do hands-on training where we get to leave our work and we’ll have a place for our people to stay. Some of them come from as far away as Rockford and Peoria, so it’ll be nice for them to stay at the camp. And they’ll have a special pride in the work they do, knowing how it will benefit the camp and those who use the facilities. It’ll benefit the camp too. They’ve got a lot of sidewalks we can pour and other work we can do. We’re really going to improve the facilities. It’s the perfect place for us.”

Indeed, there’s plenty of work to be done at Touch of Nature, said Susan C. Edgren, acting director of the Division of Continuing Education, which oversees the camp. Planned asphalt projects include fixing potholes, improving parking lots and resurfacing tennis courts and a walkway to the beach. Concrete projects slated include pouring a handicapped-accessible walkway to the fishing pier, adding tent pads and dumpster pads, pouring sidewalks for Camp I and creating a loading dock at Freeberg Hall.

“This partnership with the Illinois Laborers is a win-win situation for both of us,” Edgren said. “The scope of projects will vary from smaller to larger, depending on what we need. In exchange for their work, the Laborers will have use of our facilities. The Laborers get the training that they need and Touch of Nature gets the improvements to its facilities. We see this as a strong future partnership with SIUC and the Laborers.”

Training crews have already been on site starting asphalt work, Edgren said.

Training will be ongoing at least during the summer months, and perhaps beyond, Taylor said. He noted that the four-year apprenticeship program requires five weeks of training each year and they also offer journeyman-training sessions of one to two weeks for union members to upgrade their qualification. In all, he anticipates about 1,000 people will get hands-on training each year in Southern Illinois.

“Weather permitting, we’ll be doing all the training we can outdoors at Touch of Nature,” Taylor said. “I think this is going to be good for all of us.”

Touch of Nature, located about seven miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road, traces its roots to former SIU President Delyte Morris’ concept in 1949 of an outdoor laboratory supporting the University’s educational mission. A couple of years later, Camp Little Giant was born on 150 acres acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The first University-affiliated residential camping program for people with individuals had a home. Touch of Nature Environmental Center offers camps and programs all year long for children and adults. Its mission is to enhance learning, promote professional development of students and provide high-quality educational, research and experiential programs and services to SIUC and the surrounding community.

For more information about Touch of Nature or its facilities, call 618/453-1122 or visit the Web site at http://www.ton.siu.edu/.