Guests snacked on hors d’oeuvres and drinks, toured the two new adjacent buildings and intermingled Tuesday during the grand opening of the latest addition to Merrillville’s “union corridor,” the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters’ new administration office and training facility,
The buildings, which were built by union workers and cost about $13 million, according to Scott Cooley, senior representative of IKORCC, sit on about 18 acres on Mississippi Street, facing Interstate 65, just north of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697.
Several other union locals are located along or off of Mississippi Street in Merrillville, including the Teamsters..
Cooley said the regional council outgrew its former location on Union Street in Hobart, where it was located since 1978.
“We had 378 apprentices enrolled in our four-year program. We needed a larger space,” he said.
He said the administration building covers the entire Northwest Indiana territory, which includes around 3,000 to 4,000 carpenters and millwrights.
He said the new facility is updated with new technology to reflect changes on the construction sites.
“And the exposure we get from I-65 is great for us,” he added.
Mark McGriff, executive secretary/treasurer and business manager with IKORCC, said in the 25 years that he’s been a member of the union he probably passed the new facility’s formerly vacant site a thousand times.
“To be here today is incredible. This is a great, great facility,” McGriff said.
“This is not a job, it’s a life, a great life to have,” he added.
William Irwin, executive director of the Carpenters International Training Fund, said the days of a member training as an apprentice then never setting foot back into a training center again are done.
“We’re all about training,” he said.
McGriff said with the opening of the Merrillville training center, IKORCC has a total of 570,000 square feet of training space among its various locations.
Merrillville Town Council members welcomed the union to the town.
“We’re very pro-union, so much so that when we give economic incentives and they ask for tax abatements, we say to (developers) you will hire union workers or pay a prevailing wage,” Councilman Shawn Pettit, D-6th, a keynote speaker, said.
Council President Richard Hardaway, D-2nd, the new IKORCC buildings are the types of development the council is looking for as it works to build the town up.
“They took something that was nothing and made something nice,” Hardaway.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, lauded the regional council for making sure its members earn a living wage, have a safe workplace and a sound retirement, and for giving back to the community through donations to several charities.
“Your generosity makes me proud,” Viskclosky said.
Karen Caffarini is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.