Pipefitters showcase their craft in Veterans Home renovation

(by Steve Share, Mpls Labor Review) The Minneapolis Veterans Home is in the middle of a three-phase $117 million renovation to build new facilities at its campus on the Mississippi River bluffs near Minnehaha Falls Regional Park. For members of Pipefitters Local 539, the current work on “Building 21” is providing journeymen and apprentices the opportunity to work on hot water systems, chill water systems, steam systems, gas piping, a cooling tower and more.

“It’s Pipefitting 101 because of all the aspects of the job,” said Bernie Rissanen, Hanover, a Local 539 member since 1970, 14-year apprentice instructor and current business agent. “It’s the ideal job to work on — everything’s there.”

Russ Nystrom, mechanical inspector for the city of Minneapolis, was so impressed by the job that he initiated a worksite tour last month for Local 539 leadership and the Labor Review. “The quality of the work is superb. It’s being done right,” said Nystrom, Blaine, a 19-year member of Local 539 and Minneapolis mechanical inspector for the past six years.

Adolfson & Peterson Construction is the general contractor for “Building 21,” a three-story, 109,000 square foot structure which will include 93 individual units for resident veterans — each room with its own bathroom and heating and cooling units — nursing stations on each floor, a kitchen serving the entire campus, and common areas.

With 85 construction workers currently on-site, the project now is at peak construction, reported Carey Everson, Adolfson & Peterson project manager.

The work is taking place under a Project Labor Agreement with the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, making it an all-union job.

Everson said one unique aspect of the “Building 21” project is that “it ties in to an overall campus… There are a lot of connections that need to be made to existing systems.”

Modern Piping is the prime mechanical contractor installing all plumbing, HVAC piping, ductwork and temperature control systems.

The Pipefitters foreman on the job for a crew of 10 is Chris Rod, Lino Lakes, a Local 539 member since 1998.

“I’m excited to work on this project,” Rod said as he led the May 15 tour. “I’ve worked on quite a few projects in my time in the industry. This is one of the most important ones.”

Why? Because the completed project will provide quality, new facilities to house Minnesota veterans who need skilled nursing care. “It’s time we decided to take care of them,” Rod said. “They did a lot for us.”

Rod said of his crew, “we’ve put so many hours and so much work into this. I’ve got guys who have a lot of pride in what they do. They’re professionals.”

“There’s a real sense of pride,” agreed Minneapolis mechanical inspector Russ Nystrom. “It’s for the vets… Everybody’s going the extra mile.”

Pre-apprentice helper Michael Patterson, St. Paul, said the work at the Minnesota Veterans Home is “a real big opportunity for me…Right now I’m getting experience, learning the tools… The union gave me a chance.”

Pipefitting 101 — “I like it so far,” Patterson said.

Article by Steve Share, editor of The Minneapolis Labor Review ,and a  frequent contributor to Workday Minnesota.