Hospitals Project hosts carpentry students


The new Comox Valley Hospital construction site is providing “priceless” outside-the-classroom educational opportunities to North Island College Carpentry students, says NIC Carpentry Instructor Tom Klatt following a recent tour of the site.

“It’s a unique opportunity to have this right in our backyard, where you just walk out the door and 100 yards away are guys building a huge job. It couldn’t be better, really. It’s priceless in a lot of ways.”

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Students from the North Island College’s Foundation Carpentry Program toured the Comox Valley Hospital construction site recently with Graham Construction representatives.

Klatt teaches the college’s Foundation Carpentry Program, which offers first-year students technical training in what the trade is all about. He couldn’t have been happier to see the 153-bed Comox Valley Hospital construction project growing out of the ground right next door to the college.

“Because they’re right beside where we do our schooling, it was a good opportunity for us to once in a while take a walk around the fence line just to see what was going on at any particular time,” Klatt says. “There was tons of stuff about concrete work. In this area, we don’t see a lot of that kind of work, the heavy industrial type of construction, so it was nice to see that going up.”

Walking the fence line was very informative for the students, but that couldn’t compare to actually touring the site inside the fence. Klatt jumped at the offer when it came from Graham Design Builders.

“I was told by one of the workers there that if I was interested in taking a tour, to get ahold of (Graham’s Health, Safety & Environment Supervisor) Mike Brown and he would try and set something up. As it turns out, one of my students in the class is a volunteer firefighter with Mike in Port Alberni. He got ahold of me and said ‘we’d love to have you on site. We’ll just work out a date and a time that’s good for everybody. It turned out that we got to take the tour about two weeks before the end of the course. It was an excellent fit.”

Brown said the timing of the tour worked well, an opportunity to connect the classroom with the worksite.

“The tour timed out very well with the students learning about formwork at school, followed by a tour of our site as an opportunity to observe the tasks first hand and ask questions from those performing the work,” he said. “We were very excited to be able to provide added benefit and value to those in the program as they further their education and skills.”

Among the many educational opportunities the site tour offered, Klatt wanted the students to see aspects of how versatile the carpentry trade can be, from building houses to building hospitals. For example, the concrete forming work involved on the new hospitals is very different from the work done on the foundation for a single-family residence. Klatt described the tour as an eye-opening learning experience.

“The students loved it. They were okay with going around the outside of the fence but to get on site, they really liked it. They though it was well worth taking the time from the course and going out there. It was a very good tour. The people from Graham were very forthcoming and let us walk around and ask questions of some of the workers. It was excellent.”

Construction-based training is a two-way street. There have been advantages for Graham to be working so closely with the college. Klatt says several students have made their way from the classroom to the North Island Hospitals Project.

“There’s all sorts of guys that have been coming to school here to continue with their apprenticeship training and then go back to work over there,” he says. “It’s been awesome.”

The most recent figures show a total of 487 workers were on the project in July. Ninety-three apprentices were working on the hospital construction sites in Campbell River and the Comox Valley in a variety of fields including carpentry, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, roofing and others. That number was up from 82 in June and 75 in May.