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Plumbers Local 130 Union Opens Training Center In The West Loop

CHICAGO (CBS) -- If you're in the West Loop, you might not pay much attention to a three-story building that just opened on Washington Street. But it's teaming with life inside, teaching a trade we cannot live without.

CBS 2's Jim Williams was at the ribbons cutting.

After losing his job as a legal clerk and driving a truck, Joe Collum is back in school at 49-years old.

"I'm on the bottom working my way up, but I've got people eager to help me," Collum said.

The Plumbers Local 130 Union held Tuesday afternoon a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open its new training center, where men and women are learning to be plumbers.

The new facility houses a very realistic setting, for students to learn how to work in real situations.

"That's why we build an underground pit. They're going to be in the stones, they're going to be in the mud," said Plumbers Local 130 Union business manager Jim Coyne.

Coyne showed CBS that every square inch has teaching in mind, including the washrooms.

There is a faucet room housing 94 different faucets. And there is a room that stores rainwater.

CBS: And that allows you to do what?

"That allows us to reclaim that water to put it back in the plumbing system to flush the toilets and urinals," Coyne said.

Here's an example of what they can do at the new facility: they can take notes at a desk, then walk a few feet away and get some hand-on experience at a water heater.

Joe Collum was introduced to the apprenticeship through a program the St. Paul Church of God in Christ. And now he has a 50,000 square foot classroom.

"I'm going forward to be a journeyman and pass on what I've learned to those who are hungry for knowledge," Collum said.

Students in the plumbers training program work four days a week and spend the fifth day in class. The federal government estimates the plumbing industry is growing 12 percent a year.

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