Final beam in place at PG&E facility

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The Winters community has watched in wonder as the new PG&E Gas Operations Technical Training Center has been rising from the ground and taking shape over the past year. On Thursday, Nov. 10, work crews stood back and watched in triumph as the last beam was set in place in ceremonial fashion.

A crane lifted the beam, which was signed the week prior by Winters City Council members and city staff, and then carefully set it into place. The beam was adorned with an American flag at one end and an evergreen tree at the other.

Bill Hill, manager with DPR, one of the construction contractors for the project, gathered workers around to discuss the significance of placing the beam.

Noting that construction began on Jan. 21 and represented 65,000 man-hours with only one minor injury, he said, “We’ve come a long way in eight months.”

“It means a lot to the construction of the building,” Hill said of the final beam, and then he told some ancient Scandinavian and Native American stories about the significance of the evergreen tree.

During the Dark Ages, Scandinavians placed an evergreen tree on the highest point of every structure for good luck. Centuries later, Native Americans employed in the construction industry in the United States encouraged the placement of an evergreen tree not only as a nod to any trees that may have been uprooted in the process but also because they believed that no manmade structure should be higher than the trees.

Hill also told the crowd he has skipped the evergreen adornment only two times while setting the final beams, and both projects ended up with some minor but odd issues.

“I haven’t missed one since then,” he added, noting that the evergreen symbolizes growth and good luck for the entire project.

As for the American flag, that required little explanation: “For patriotism.”

Although the final beam of the training center is now in place, the project is far from finished, even though it’s beginning to flesh out. In addition to the cavernous training center, the 30-acre grounds will feature a “utility village” — a mock residential area where trainees can practice gas repairs — and a large outdoor area for using heavy equipment and digging, and a welding lab.

The trainees will not be using gas in their lessons, but rather, pressurized air and water. Their lessons will include hydrostatic pressure tests, which test lines under their maximum pressure, and handling “blowouts” that occur when third-party contractors rupture lines while using heavy equipment.

Local police and fire departments also may have an opportunity to practice emergency situations involving gas pipelines in the upcoming months.

As for the staff, there will be about 50 regular employees working at the Winters facility, however, it is uncertain how many jobs, if any, will be available locally. Winters restaurants definitely will benefit from the new facility, because the training center will not have a cafeteria and local restaurants will be contracted to cater lunches on a daily basis.

Winters also will benefit from improvements to the Putah Creek Nature Park and walking trail. PG&E donated $200,000 to the city for continuing this work along the creek, which borders the south side of the property. When completed, employees and local residents will be able to enjoy an extended walking path from Interstate 505 all the way into the downtown area.

PG&E spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said the project will be opening in waves as each area is completed. PG&E expects the facility to be completely open and ready for students in mid-2017.

Although the utility initially expected about 300 new trainees each week from all over its service area (which covers most of California) and beyond, the company now expects 400 to 600 per week. They will be studying different things and taking different courses, which will vary in length, Subbotin said, all dedicated to the goal of gas pipeline safety.

“We will be using the very latest and the very greatest technology available for gas safety excellence,” she said. “We will continue to prioritize safety throughout our company. This will be a legacy program for PG&E.”

— Reach Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com

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