With an emphasis on training new employees, natural gas utility Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania Inc. broke ground Thursday for a $19 million training center and operating facility in Beaver County.
Columbia Gas is moving its northern operating facility headquarters to Monaca from Rochester. The project will feature additional space for vehicle equipment and be positioned in a more central location to its service territory, said Sarah Perry, a spokeswoman.
Construction of the two buildings is expected to be completed by April 2016.
The project is another step in the utility’s plans to modernize its infrastructure and workforce. The company has 400,000 customers throughout Pennsylvania and has spent $900 million in seven years to expand its infrastructure.
Since 2008, Columbia Gas has replaced about 36 miles of pipeline in Beaver County, an investment of about $26.6 million, Ms. Perry said. This year, the company plans to spend about $186 million to replace about 76 miles of pipeline across the state.
With about 30 percent of its workforce eligible for retirement this year, the company saw a need to recruit trainees, said Mike Davidson, general manager of operations, during the ceremony.
An influx of new workers coincides with new pipeline safety rules, which require additional training and operating standards to comply with federal regulations.
The new training center will help the company meet those safety regulations, said Mr. Davidson. The buildings will sit on a large plot of undeveloped land where Center meets Potter. Apart from training Columbia Gas employees, the center will offer instruction for volunteer firefighters and emergency workers so they are better equipped to deal with gas-related emergencies.
Additionally, the facilities, which can hold up to 80 employees and students, will give trainees a chance to apply their skills hands-on in a controlled environment. An outdoor component will have a mock neighborhood for students to practice their trade, such as fixing gas leaks or establishing gas lines.
Classes mimicking real life situations provide students with a chance to safely develop their skills, said Linda Crowley, a technical training leader.
The event was held in coordination with National Safe Digging Month. Columbia Gas reminded people to call 8-1-1 ahead of any digging or excavating projects to know where it is safe to dig.
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